Senator Whitver: Legislature Completes First Funnel Week

This week was the first of two funnel weeks at the Capitol. The funnels are designed to streamline the legislative process and narrow down the agenda for the remainder of the session.

During the first funnel, a bill must pass a full committee in either the House or the Senate, or it is dead for the session. Every year there are hundreds of bills filed. Many of those bills pass the full committee, some pass a sub-committee but do not pass the full committee, and there are even more that never even have a sub-committee hearing.

As you can imagine, funnel week is a very busy time and extremely stressful for people looking to advance a bill this session. I had over 10 subcommittee meetings this week and we had dozens of bills that passed through the committees on which I serve.

The following is a list of bills that survived funnel week. This is a small sample of bills that survived the funnel week and will be available for debate going forward.

  • A bill promoted by the governor to enhance our broadband capabilities in rural areas
  • A bill promoted by the governor to address bullying in schools
  • A bill to legalize fireworks in the state of Iowa
  • A bill to enhance penalties of child kidnapping
  • A bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10/hour
  • A bill to restrict the use of drones to violate personal privacy

This list is obviously not a complete list and not necessarily indicative of my priorities. I wanted to update you on some of the more “hot button” issues that have been in the news.

The next major legislative date is the second funnel, which occurs the week of March 10th. During the second funnel week, a bill must have passed both a House and Senate full committee in order to stay alive. Therefore, over the next three weeks, the Senate will be reviewing all of the bills that passed the House in the first five weeks.

Senator Zumbach: Funnel Week Comes To An End

Funnel week has come to an end.  Hundreds of bills were on a make it or die course this week, with their fate being driven by the clock.  However, the life or death of bills ultimately lies in the hands of the majority party.  I will admit most of the “crazy” bills end up dying, but a few survive.  The process of a bill becoming a law is layered into a minimum of five steps if it is non-controversial.  If amendments are added you could add two more steps for a total of seven.  If it is controversial, it may end up in “conference committee” and take even more time.  The process is slow and cumbersome, but it does allow several eyes to look at the value of the potential new law.  Being slow, in theory, helps remove emotion from the picture. As legislators, it is in our best interest to make decisions with ethics, history, science and costs as our determining factors, not emotions.  I would like to think all 150 legislators follow these ideals every time.  Reality and history shows some can fall off course.

It appears we will have an interesting pallet of bills to discuss in the coming weeks.  One topic I would like to discuss is Voter ID.  In today’s society, all Iowans expect integrity in our elections.   I’m happy to report a majority of Iowans welcome Voter ID becoming part of the process.  Today, we use ID in nearly every transaction we are involved with, and I believe, high integrity, and accurate voting should follow suit.

A new “Silver Alert” system may be considered in the Legislature this year.  It would work similar to the “Amber Alert” system for lost or missing children.  The Silver Alert system is for seniors who may have a loss of cognitive skills.  Keeping our citizens safe, young and old is vital for all Iowans.

A third item we may be discussing is enhanced penalties for kidnapers.  History and experience has shown us we need to find ways to deter criminals for these horrible acts.  All three of these would be good for Iowans.

Senator Dix: We must keep our focus on job creation

Five weeks into the 2014 Legislative session, and many topics are being discussed among lawmakers. Fostering an environment that promotes job creation and strengthening Iowa’s economy have not been front burner discussions. This is unfortunate, because when we take our eye off the ball, it impacts all Iowans – and not in a positive manner.

We must create ways to help make Iowa more appealing for businesses looking to expand or relocate in our great state. Jobs are vital to our state. They are critical to those raising families, pursuing the American dream and working to make ends meet.

The people of Iowa are turning to us to make wise decisions. We should be reducing the regulatory and tax burdens on those who create jobs because those who work hard to earn their money tend to spend it more wisely than those who collect it through tax levies. These are the discussions we should be having at the Statehouse.

When Congressman Paul Ryan accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination at the RNC National Convention in 2012 he said, “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.”

Though many may believe the Congressman’s speech was full of political rhetoric, events since the election of 2012 have proven that it was fact-based analysis. Listening to an eastern Iowa mother, she talks about the hardships her son is experiencing in starting a new career. He is energetic, bright and holds a degree from Iowa State University. However, almost two years after graduating college, he lives at home and works three part-time jobs, waiting to put his proudly earned degree to work.

This eastern Iowa young man is not alone. Many students attending Iowa colleges are preparing to graduate in May. These students are putting the finishing touches on their college days, but the uncertainty that lies ahead is creating a sense of anxiety.

Visiting with some Iowa students attending Drake, I learned they are very concerned about finding jobs upon graduation. They are Iowa natives and want to remain in their home state, but have begun to face the reality of moving out of state to put their degrees to work. This is the very reason lawmakers should be fighting to create an environment where jobs are plentiful, so that leaving our state is an option, not a necessity.

Iowa is in a great position to achieve economic success. It is imperative we create policies that embolden businesses and lead to job creation. There is a lot of work still to be done this session on behalf of Iowans, and Senate Republicans give you our assurance we will not give up that fight. That is the government you expect, the representation you deserve and the leadership you elected us to provide.

Senator Kapucian: Gold Star Military Museum honors Iowa veterans

On Monday prior to session, I was fortunate to join others on the infrastructure subcommittee in touring the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa.

The goal of the museum is to honor, commemorate and pay tribute to the dedication of Iowa’s fighting men and women of all backgrounds as they performed their duties and sacrificed without the expectation of any reward except to improve the lives of generations to come.

Each veteran has a story. The gallery and accompanying collections bring to life these stories of service and sacrifice in a lively and chronological order. The displays provide context to the lessons of history books and through these objects, the people who touched them and used them in battle live on – their stories told and not forgotten.

The museum is owned and operated by the State of Iowa, which made a significant investment of more than $4 million in 2007 to build the gallery. Phase II of this effort will provide for the construction of exhibits highlighting Iowans and their service. Visitors will be able to participate in a truly interactive experience, deepening their understanding of the realities our soldiers faced and how those daily realities contributed to our global history.

The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum’s mission is to honor and depict the military experience of Iowa citizens in all wars, homeland defense and Iowa service. The museum’s purpose is to collect, preserve and exhibit materials that illustrate the story of Iowa’s military past from statehood to the present. The Iowa Gold Star Museum honors the heroic service of all Iowa veterans.

Senator Whitver: Legislature Begins to Pay Down State Debt

One of the biggest concerns I have with the federal government is the amount of debt we are accumulating. The federal government is over $17 trillion in debt, and just this week, Congress voted to extend the debt limit ceiling until March of 2015. This could drive the debt to as high as $19 trillion. The 2013 federal deficit added almost $680 billion to the federal debt. In short, it is out of control.

One of the reasons I ran for office in 2011 was that I was concerned that the problems with our federal government were starting to appear in our state government. Our spending was out of control. Governor Culver had just passed the I-Jobs program, his $1.7 billion answer to our economic struggles. This program was funded entirely with debt, which requires the State of Iowa to pay back $55 million per year for 30 years! Of the $1.7 billion, about $760 million is interest, meaning there was little to no long-term benefit.

At the end of the 2013 legislative session, Republicans and Democrats agreed that we should begin to pay down our debt. We compromised on a bill to pay down $116 million worth of debt, with much of this amount going to pay down the I-Jobs debt. I am proud to have supported paying off our debt with our excess revenue.

Currently, we still have $939.4 million state issued debt. If you count interest payments, we still owe over $1.5 billion in total state debt.  Of this amount, $703.4 million, or $1.2 billion counting interest, is from the I-Jobs stimulus program signed by Governor Culver in 2009. Unfortunately, most of this I-Jobs debt is arranged so we cannot pay it off early. I believe we should continue to look for ways to improve our fiscal stability, including paying down as much debt as possible. The bill to pay down $116 million last year was a great start, and I will continue to search for more opportunities to pay down our debt going forward.

Senator Schneider: Drones Receiving Attention at the Capitol

The Federal Aviation Administration recently published a plan that would permit more widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for commercial or private purposes by 2015. This has also led to questions about the use of drones by law enforcement agencies. These questions have spurred some states to pass laws limiting the use of drones. The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering drone legislation this year, as is the Iowa House.

Several bills dealing with drones have been filed, and we’re working to consolidate them into one bill. I want to ensure the new technology will not be used by law enforcement to issue traffic citations or enforce other ordinances, and that Iowans’ right to privacy is maintained.

I believe it’s important to address traffic enforcement now so that we don’t put ourselves in the position we find ourselves with traffic enforcement cameras. The state did not take any preemptive action to regulate traffic enforcement cameras before local governments began using them. As a result, the state legislature, the Iowa Department of Transportation, and some local governments are butting heads on whether, when and how to use traffic enforcement cameras.

I also believe it’s important to require that government agencies obtain a search warrant before using drones to collect evidence of criminal activity. We should be open, however, to permitting some exceptions such as using them for search and rescue operations.

This continues to be a work in progress, but it’s an issue I hope we address this session. Let’s not put ourselves in a position of acting too late.

Senator Anderson: Silver Alert Program

Senate File 2041 would create a Silver Alert program, similar to the Amber Alert program, in the Department of Public Safety. Its purpose is to aid in locating a cognitively impaired person who is 65 years of age or older. The alert will be created if the person has been missing for less than 72 hours and is thought to be in danger. The Silver Alert will be entered into the state system.

Prior to the start of session I was approached regarding the creation of a Silver Alert program. My constituent shared that his grandfather, who was 84, suffered from dementia and the early stages of Alzheimer’s and was unable to be located. According to Iowa Law, the Amber Alert system cannot be used for the elderly. Wandering is a behavior which happens mainly as a result of declining cognitive skills. The loss of memory impacts the person’s ability to discern where they are. Today, more than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. That number is expected to grow to 20 million in the coming years. Statistics show 50 percent of people who wander will suffer serious injury or death if they are not found within 24 hours.

I have proudly sponsored legislation and support establishing a Silver Alert system to assist in locating missing adults before they are injured or worse.  Senate File 2041 is currently under consideration in a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.

Senator Ernst: Honoring Iowa’s National Guard

One of the greatest honors I have is serving in the Iowa Army National Guard.  This past Wednesday, Iowa National Guard Adjutant General Tim Orr spoke before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature during the annual State of the National Guard address. It is comforting to know nearly 10,000 Iowa men and women serving in the National Guard stand ready to assist our state in times of an emergency, and defend our great nation and the freedoms we enjoy. These are our co-workers, friends, family and neighbors.

The National Guard plays a vital role in our national defense. General Orr said nearly 45 percent of the men and women in the Iowa National Guard are combat veterans. In the past decade, the National Guard and Air Guard have been deployed to more than 35 countries around the globe, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

General Orr noted for the first time since 2002, our Iowa soldiers are no longer serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. When the General announced this during his Condition of the Guard speech, it received a hearty applause. I also wish to applaud the efforts of our volunteer Guard troops who have served and continue to serve. General Orr was correct when he said our Guard is the most proficient in the history of our state.

The General also raised concerns about three transitions the Guard will face in 2014. As a legislator, I believe it is important to be mindful, supportive and assist our troops as they transition: from war; into civilian life; and as they deal with constrained resources. General Orr said our guard troops have not faced such challenging transitions since World War II.

We proudly stand by our troops. After all, they are there for Iowans in their times of need when disaster strikes, or bravely answer the call when deployed around the world. The Legislature must be ready to show the same respect when called upon in the Guard’s time of need.

Senator Dix: Senate Republicans support sustainable increases, honoring commitments to Iowa students

DES MOINES – Senate Republicans remain dedicated to honoring commitments made to Iowa schools, while maintaining responsible budgeting practices, Senate Republican Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said Wednesday.

“The 6 percent increase Senate Democrats offered for education supplemental aid is quite concerning,” Senator Dix said. “This would be an additional $222.5 million added to the state budget. Senate Republicans are dedicated to making sustainable commitments and keeping promises to our educators and young people. There is a long history of overpromising and under-delivering on funding for education in Iowa.

“We have learned from past lessons what happens when the Legislature makes irresponsible budgeting decisions,” Senator Dix said. “Since 2002, the Iowa Legislature has failed to keep its commitment to local schools six times – to the tune of nearly $600 million.”

Senate Republicans are open to having meaningful discussions about honoring our commitments to Iowa’s children, Dix said.

 

Senator Anderson: Wind Energy Production Is Important To Iowa

DES MOINES – Iowa plays a significant role in wind energy production, said Senator Bill Anderson, who cast a vote Wednesday urging federal officials to extend the wind energy tax credits.

“Iowa is the third largest producer of wind energy, behind California and Texas,” said Senator Anderson, R-Pierson. “It leads the country in wind generation as a percentage in total power output. Realizing the importance this industry has in our state, I was proud to co-sponsor a resolution reminding the federal government of these facts.

The federal wind energy tax credit expired on December 31, 2013. The Senate resolution passed 49-0 and will be sent to Iowa’s congressional delegation and President Barack Obama urging them to continue the tax credits. The tax credits will help maintain wind energy production is viable for years to come.

“Studies show more than 75 percent of Iowa is suitable for wind energy production,” Senator Anderson said. “Extending the tax credit could be realized throughout three-fourths of the state. Utilizing this resource at its full capacity could generate enough wind energy to power 250,000 homes.”

While in place, the federal tax credit fostered the growth of Iowa’s wind energy industry, which employs thousands of full-time workers.  Iowans can make a strong case in support of the wind energy tax credits. Coupled with the economic and environmental impact of the resource, there is a national security component of being reliant on clean, homegrown renewable electricity instead of foreign oil.

“At a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world and the future, I think it only makes sense to be dependent on a resource that is proven, clean and produced close to home,” Senator Anderson said.