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Capitol Digest 2-22-12

James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012:

GOOGLE PRIVACY CONCERNS: Attorney General Tom Miller joined by 35 attorneys general in outlining concerns with recently announced changes to Google’s privacy policy that is scheduled to automatically go into effect March 1.

This policy change threatens the privacy of those users of various Google products who wish to keep various parts of their online experience separate, Miller said. It also has the potential to heighten the risk of damaging identity theft and fraud, given that Google will now be storing richer personal information profiles.

Under its new privacy policy, Google gives itself the freedom to combine users’ personal information from services like web history and YouTube with all other Google products. Existing users could not opt out without opting out of the Google ecosystem entirely, Miller said.

The ramifications will be virtually impossible to avoid for users of Android-powered smartphones, currently estimated to be 50 percent of the national smartphone market. They would now have to choose between either frequently logging in and out to avoid Google’s consolidation of their data, thus greatly reducing the efficiency of their smartphones, or replacing their smartphones at great personal expense.

ID THEFT: An identity theft moved to the full House Judiciary Committee despite reservations from lawmakers and lobbyists.

HSB 638 would create harsher penalties for people who engage in identity theft or knowingly accepts fraudulent identity of another in hiring. It also would enhance penalties if a person engages in identity theft of five or more people.

The Attorney General’s Office said the law appeared to be written in a way to get Iowa involved in the enforcement of federal immigration law and questioned whether that responsibility should fall on county attorneys and sheriffs. Along those lines, the Iowa Catholic Conference said a provision making it illegal to assume the identity of a person who does not exist would have the impact of tearing apart real families which might be in Iowa illegally.

As the bill is written, an impersonator, such a Rich Little, could run afoul of the law by assuming the identity of another person, a spokesman for the Justice Reform Coalition said.

“There’s a lot of heavy lifting to be done,” subcommittee member Rep. Glen Massie, R-Des Moines, said before signing off on the bill.

WORKFORCE SHORTAGE: Democrats who control the Iowa Senate voted 26-22 to establish a new skilled workforce tuition grant program totaling $20 million that would be administered by the state’s College Student Aid Commission.

SF 2024 calls for a three-year investment in expanding workforce training at community colleges. Up to $12 million would fund current training programs and $6 million would fund skilled workforce shortage tuition grants for students exhaust other sources of funding. The bill also earmarked $2 million for the Gap Assistance Program and the Pathways for Academic Career and Employment effort that both were approved during the 2011 session.

Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, the bill’s sponsor, said Iowa employers that can’t find skilled workers are faced with three bad choices – lose business to their competitors, high people in some other state or country to do the work, or move out of Iowa. He said S.F. 2024 would help the state identify skilled job shortage areas and help Iowans fill them. Sen. Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, one of 22 GOP senators who voted against the bill, said the measure threatened to return to budget practices where the Legislature was spending more than the state was taking in. “This isn’t spending, this is investing,” countered Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames.

SAVE THE ARSENAL: Quad Cities area House members introduced HCR 105 calling on President Obama to protect the Rock Island Arsenal from future budget cuts.

The lawmakers said more an 8,500 people are employed there and it contributes more than $1 billion to the area’s economy. Any reduction at the Arsenal would not only threaten the local economy, but jeopardize the military readiness to quickly respond to a threat against the nation.

LAW ENFORCEMENT CENTER LEVIES: SF 2137, which would apply to joint city-county law enforcement centers in Muscatine and Scott counties, cleared the Senate Local Government Committee.

The bill clarifies existing law that allows the establishment of joint authorities for the purpose of building and operating joint law enforcement centers. SF 2137 makes clear the city and county debt service levies for the costs associated with the centers shall be deposited into a separate account, removes the levies from inclusion in the county supplemental levy and excludes the property taxes levied and collected from tax increment financing.

WILD BOARS: A bill that would allow a third-generation Tama County hunting preserve to continue to offer wild boar hunting may get a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee Feb. 23.

Under a 2007 decision by the Legislature North Star Gameland, which opened in 1955, will not be able to possess European or Russian boars after March 31. HF 258 would allow the hunting preserve to maintain its herd as long as it met specific requirements for testing for pseudorabies and preventing the boars from escaping.

The owners of the preserve have worked with the Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Department Agriculture and Land Stewardship and donated boars to Iowa State University for testing and research, according to Natural Resources Chairman Henry Rayons, R-Garner.

COMMERCIAL ANIMAL BREEDERS: The Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bill without dissent 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.

SF 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.

The committee did not take up a measure that would have assisted small farm wind turbines in generating energy that Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport, said will be needed to meet Iowa’s electrical demands if the Legislature is unable to approve a nuclear power bill that awaits Senate approval.

BRANSTAD SIGNS BILLS: Gov. Terry Branstad signed legislation designed to have the state resume regular inspection of care facilities for the disabled in Iowa. SF 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. The governor also signed Senate File 2120, which makes changes to the practice of optometry in Iowa.

MENTAL HEALTH REDESIGN: House and Senate committees were slated Thursday to consider separate approaches aimed at redesigning the current county-based mental health system into a statewide effort where services are administered regionally and delivered locally by July 1, 2013.

A Senate subcommittee voted unanimously to proceed by maintaining the current $125 million county mental health levy that is slated to “sunset” in July 2013. That approach currently is at odds with a House Republican plan that calls for the state to assume about $25 million annually of the costs until it eventually the financial burden is totally shifted to the state over five years.

Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said Republicans and Democrats in the Senate agree “we’re not going to play games with the funding sources with counties” by repealing the sunset on the current property tax levy. Charles Palmer, director of the state Department of Human Services, said where the funding is coming from and what amount of state contributions will be available are the biggest challenges in forging an agreement on a mental health system redesign.

The proposed legislation calls for creating five to 15 regions serving targeted populations between 200,000 to 700,000 people, with each region having a governing board made up of elected supervisors or their designees from each participating county along with consumer or family representatives. The regions would be made up of contiguous counties that enter into partnering arrangements and utilize a single “checking account” where federal, state and county funds would be deposited and spent as a way to bring consistency and equity to a service-delivery system currently carved up 99 different ways.

INTERN WEB SITE: A bill that would create a web site to match Iowans with internship opportunities passed out of a Senate committee Wednesday. Senate Study Bill 3166 is envisioned “as a passively-hosted web site” where companies and internship seekers can post their information and attempt to make a match, said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the Senate education committee. Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said he supported the idea of the web site, but wanted to have a parental consent provision in place that young Iowans would need to have before they could post. “With no parental consent for them to put personal information online … you could be putting them in a dangerous situation,” Smith said.

SEX OFFENDERS: A bill that requires the notification of staff, residents, family and the facility community when a sex offender is placed in a residential care facility passed through committee Wednesday, but is still a work in progress. State Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf, who chairs the House human resources committee said lawmakers still have to refine some language in the bill. “We’re trying to balance due process rights with the parts of the bill that deal with what happens when a sex offender is found,” she said. The legislation is a priority of Gov. Terry Branstad who called for its drafting after an elderly resident in a Pomeroy nursing home was assaulted by another resident who was a registered sex offender.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I was all prepared, now I got nothing.” Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, after he was the only person to show up for a three-person subcommittee hearing on a bill that would help school districts target staff development dollars.

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