A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012:
ALLOWABLE GROWTH DISALLOWED: The House rejected a move to debate SF 2114, which sets allowable growth for Iowa’s K-12 schools. Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, asked the House to suspend its rules to place the bill on the calendar, but it was voted down on a party line vote, 37-58. Steckman asked to suspend the rules because current state law says the “allowable growth” per-pupil funding level for state aid and local property tax contributions for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2013, must be set within 30 days of the Legislature receiving the governor’s budget plan – Feb. 9 this year. However, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, says the majority party prefers to revamp the forward-funding law to make school funding decisions part of the biennial budgeting approach the Legislature and Branstad established last session. That bill, HF 2245, is expected to be debated next week, he said.
Ignoring the law apparently is Republicans’ new attempt at regulatory reform, chided Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. “If you don’t like a state law, don’t obey it,” he said. Republicans could take up the bill, set allowable growth at 0 percent and be in compliance. “Instead, they choose to ignore law.”
NO THANKS, GOVERNOR: Gov. Terry Branstad’s call for elected officials in Iowa “to lead by example” by paying for 20 percent of the cost of their state-provide health insurance coverage appears to be falling on deaf ears in the General Assembly. Legislative Republicans last week said they wanted to save nearly $43 million by requiring all state employees and elected officials to contribute $200 per month for their health-insurance coverage under the state’s single or family plans. However, they conceded the proposal might stall because unionized state workers refuse to reopen the current collective bargaining agreement that runs through June 30, 2013, to renegotiate health-insurance benefits. Branstad said his preference was for lawmakers to pare down the proposal so just elected officials would be required to pay 20 percent of their health-care premiums similar to private-sector employees as a starting point. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said the fact that 88 percent of about 28,000 executive branch employees pay no premium for coverage under the state’s current insurance and managed care plans “just is not living in the real world.” However, he said elected officials will not go it alone as Branstad proposed. “I understand his suggestion,” Paulsen told reporters. “We believe all state employees should be included in the proposal. We believe that’s the discussion that should be had.”
GPS TRACKING GETS NOD: House File 2037, which would allow law enforcement officers who show probable cause to get a warrant to attach a global positioning system device to a vehicle or other items appears likely to move to the full House Judiciary Committee despite reservations with the bill. Rep. Dave Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, who chaired a second subcommittee meeting on the bill, said he’s having an amendment drafted and will move the bill to the full committee for further discussion. A member of the Polk County Attorney’s Office said law enforcement officers would have to meet the same standards of probable cause to obtain a warrant to place a GPS device on a car as to search a residence. However, civil liberties defenders said the working of the bill allows a judicial officer to issue the warrant if law enforcement meets a lower standard for probable cause.
CARE FACILITY INSPECTIONS: The Iowa Senate voted 50-0 Thursday to have the state resume regular inspection of care facilities for the disabled in Iowa. Senate File 2086 would repeal a moratorium on regular state-licensed-only health care facility inspections and allow the state Department of Inspections and Appeals to resume checks at state-licensed residential care facilities at least once every 30 months. The bill is effective upon enactment and applies retroactively to Oct. 24, 2011.
COMMERCIAL ANIMAL BREEDERS: A Senate subcommittee approved a bill designed to address problems associated with animals that are put in harm’s way when a commercial pet breeder’s license or permit has been revoked or relinquished. Senate File 2073 would establish requirements that a breeder in that situation may obtain a new state license or permit, may sterilize the dogs or cats, or may reduce the number of dogs and cats owned, possessed or under the control of the person. That reduction may be accomplished by transfer or humane destruction of the animals. The person would be required to submit a statement to the state Department of Agriculture verifying compliance with the proposed law. Failure to comply with the provisions of S.F. 2073 would carry a civil penalty of up to $500 each day that a violation would continue. Sens. Joe Seng, D-Davenport, and Dennis Black, D-Grinnell, voted to send the bill to the full Senate Agriculture Committee but Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, declined to sign the subcommittee report, saying he instead wanted a vote by the full Senate on an animal protection bill currently awaiting Senate debate.
U.S.-CHINA MEETING: United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will host a U.S.-China Agricultural Symposium in Des Moines next week. The symposium is scheduled for the second day of a two-day visit to Iowa by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. In a statement announcing the symposium, Vilsack said “I’m honored to welcome China’s Vice President Xi Jinping and Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu to the United States, where we may continue our in-depth dialogue on issues of mutual concern,” said Vilsack. “Thanks to the productivity of American farmers, ranchers and producers, consumers in China recognize the United States as a reliable supplier of high-quality food and agricultural products.” China is the top market for U.S. agricultural goods and accounts for $20 billion in U.S. agricultural exports.
WIND SUPPORT: The full Iowa Congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Senate and House leaders this week, calling for an extension of the wind energy Production Tax Credit, or PTC, due to expire at the end of the year. Iowa gets about 20 percent of its power from wind energy, which is a larger percentage from wind than any other state. The production tax credit gives wind producers a 2.2 cent income tax credit for every kilowatt hour of energy produced.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We think this session is supposed to be about looking for common ground, not for playing games of chicken.” — Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, in discussing a third legislative try at getting a boost in the state earned income tax credit (from 7 percent to 13 percent) approved and signed by Gov. Terry Branstad rather than seek to override the gubernatorial veto – although he said that possibility has not been ruled out.