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Capitol Digest 2-14-2012


This news story was published on February 15, 2012.
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Rod Boshart – CR Gazette –

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012:

WELCOME TO IOWA: Gov. Terry Branstad welcomed a Chinese delegation to the Iowa Capitol Tuesday by emphasizing the “proud history” and “strong sister state relationship” between the state and Hebei province as well the potential to expand that relationship. The Chinese referred to Branstad as “our old friend” and said that since they had arrived they had felt “the friendship of the people of Iowa.” Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds presented their guests presented a glass model of the Capitol and a framed portrait of the Capitol and received a banner and a cashmere scarf, respectively. Trade representatives indicated plans to purchase $1.6 billion worth of soybeans – about 2 million tons. There also was mention of investments in wind energy facilities in Nevada.

FLOOD MITIGATION: The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved legislation providing a cost-sharing approach toward flood protection and rebuilding efforts in Iowa communities. Senate Study Bill 3130, which passed unanimously, seeks to establish a nine-member oversight board that would scrutinize applications for state help to match local and federal contributions to flood mitigation projects. It also and allows qualifying local entities to capture a share of the growth in their sales tax collections to match state and federal financial assistance. The measure would establish a 10-year state flood mitigation program capped at $30 million annually in state sales tax revenue with a maximum award of up to $15 million a year for any qualifying single community. Other provisions would authorize the issuance of bonds to cover the construction and reconstruction of levees, embankments, impounding reservoirs, or conduits that are necessary for the protection of property from the effects of floodwaters. Those efforts may include the deepening, widening, alteration, change, diversion, or other improvement of watercourses if necessary for the protection of such property from the effects of floodwaters. The bill now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for consideration. Also Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee approved a measure aimed at establishing a skilled workforce training and grant program through Iowa’s community colleges that would be funded with $20 million annually for three years.

BRANSTAD TO SIGN ABUSE BILL: Gov. Terry Branstad has scheduled a 9 a.m. ceremony to sign Senate File 93, a bill which creates a Class D felony for choking or attempted strangulation as part of a domestic assault. The bill, which was approved by the House 96-1 on Feb. 2, was passed by the Senate last year. Choking is often a predictor of subsequent assaults, and is often a repeated offense in domestic assaults, backers say. Proponents said 135 Iowa women have been killed as a result of domestic abuse. Most of them had been choked prior to their death. The fiscal impact of the law will be about $366,000, according to a legislative analysis.

KADYN’S LAW ADVANCES: Senate Judiciary Committee members voted 13-0 Tuesday to forward a bill dubbed as “Kadyn’s Law” to the full Senate’s debate calendar. Senate File 2021 establishes new and tougher penalties for motorists who fail to obey school bus warnings. The bill was brought to lawmakers by family and friends of Kadyn Halverson, a 7-year-old girl who was struck by a car and killed in rural Worth County as she went to her school bus on May 10, 2011. Current law requires that a driver slow to less than 20 mph when passing a school bus that has its flashing lights activated. A driver also must halt when a bus stop sign or arm is extended. A violation of the law is a simple misdemeanor, punishable by a $200 fine. Under Kadyn’s Law, a first offense fine would be at least $250 but not more than $675 and a person could be sent to jail for up to 30 days. A second offense within five years would be a serious misdemeanor, with fines ranging between $315 and $1,875 and up to a year in jail. The bill also adds new penalties for causing an injury or death as a result of failing to obey school bus warnings. In such cases, a driver could be fined an additional $500 or $1,000 and have a license suspended for 90 or 180 days. Also, the measure includes an educational component to inform drivers about the changes and a section allowing for graduated suspensions.

LESS BUCK FOR THE BANG: A bill that would lower the penalty for unlawful use of fireworks in state parks moved from a subcommittee to the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Senate Study Bill 3052 would reduce the fine from $250 to $50. A spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources called the $250 penalty “onerous.” It also banned the release of any pen-reared pheasants other than the Chinese ring-neck. Other pheasants might pollute the wild pheasant population and cannot inter-breed with wild pheasants, according to the DNR. The bill also makes numerous changes to allowed use of mussels.

MORE TIF TALK: Interest groups warned a House Ways and Means subcommittee against applying too many restrictions on the use of tax increment financing (TIF). Although they agreed collaboration among local government taxing authorities and greater transparency would be improvements, they urged the panel not to restrict the use of what a lobbyist for the Iowa Chamber Alliance – the 16 largest economic development groups in the state – called their single most effective economic development tool. However, the Iowa Association of School Boards warned that a proposed change in HSB 540 would cost them revenue. Commerce Committee Chairman Chuck Soderberg, R-Le Mars, said he plans to call another subcommittee meeting next week. He indicated action on the TIF reform bill will follow action on commercial property tax reform bills that are moving in the House and Senate.

MODERNIZING IOWA’S CODE: House Study Bill 624, which would replace the words “mental retardation” with the term “intellectual disability” throughout the Iowa Code moved from a House Human Resources subcommittee to the full committee. The change would be consistent with a 2008 amendment to the Iowa Constitution to modernize language by removing references to “idiot.” A subcommittee meeting on Senate Study Bill 3136, a companion bill is scheduled Feb. 22 in the Senate.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I almost feel I’m back in college.” – former Sen. Swati Dandekar, D-Mount Vernon, describing her new role as a Iowa Utilities Board member. Dandekar, a former leader of the Senate Commerce Committee, assured members of that panel considering her confirmation that she understands her role is no longer one as a policymaker but as someone who regulates the laws as written. Concerns were raised about her past advocacy for a proposed second nuclear power plant in Iowa, but senators said they expected she would win confirmation by the required two-thirds Senate majority.

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