A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Thursday, Feb. 23:
CHECKS IN THE MAIL: Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said Thursday that refund checks totaling about $700,000 are going out to about 2,800 Iowa consumers who had been unlawfully charged for memberships by AmeriMark Direct, LLC of Cleveland, Ohio. The refund checks are part of a settlement agreement from last May, called an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, which required AmeriMark to make payments into a fund to provide partial refunds to Iowans. AmeriMark has sent all required payments, and the Consumer Protection Division is now mailing refund checks to eligible Iowa consumers. The refund checks range in amount from $63 to $1,780. The AG’s Consumer Protection Division investigated AmeriMark after receiving a complaint in September 2010 from an Iowan who discovered that her credit card had been charged more than $1,500 over a four year period for a membership she didn’t know she had. For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division through the Attorney General’s website at www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov or e-mail directly at email@example.com. Consumers can also call the Consumer Protection Division at 515-281-5926, or outside the Des Moines area, toll free, at 1-888-777-4590.
GAS PRICE UPDATE: Gasoline prices continue to rise in Iowa, according to state Department of Agriculture officials. The average price for unleaded gasoline increased by 4 cents a gallon at Iowa service stations this past week to $3.49, while the mid-grade blend with 10 percent ethanol also increased by 4 cents to $3.41 per gallon. Much of the increase was attributed to a jump in crude oil prices, with West Texas Intermediate increasing by $5.10 the past week to close at $105.84 per barrel. One year ago crude sold for $93.57 per barrel and the average price for a gallon of unleaded fuel in Iowa was 28 cents a gallon lower according to AAA. Retail diesel fuel prices in Iowa had a penny increase on the Tuesday report with a statewide average of $3.86 per gallon compared to $3.50 a year ago. Prices for propane held steady the past week with a statewide average of $1.83 per gallon while home heating oil rose three cents, ending with a statewide average of $3.51 per gallon. Natural Gas prices in Iowa rose 10 cents, ending the week at $2.62 per MMbtu.
WEAPONS ON CAMPUS: A state representative introduced a bill Thursday seeking to limit the governing boards at public and private colleges in Iowa from restricting people with a valid permit from carrying a weapon on campus. House File 2357 provides that the governing board of an accredited public or private college or university — including but not limited to a university under the control of the state Board of Regents or a community college under the jurisdiction of a board of directors for a merged area — shall not adopt or enforce any policy or rule that prohibits the carrying, transportation, or possession of any dangerous weapon in the buildings or on the grounds of the institutions by a person who possesses a valid permit to carry weapons. The measure, offered by Rep. Tom Shaw, R-Laurens, provides that a governing board found to be in violation of the proposed law would be assessed a civil penalty of between $2,500 and $5,000 and shall pay the plaintiff’s reasonable attorney fees and court costs. The bill, which failed to advance in committee, defines a dangerous weapon as any instrument or device designed primarily for use in inflicting death or injury upon a human being or animal, and which is capable of inflicting death upon a human being when used in the manner for which it was designed, except a bow and arrow when possessed and used for hunting or any other lawful purpose, according to the bill’s explanation.
DIM VIEW OF ONLINE POKER: House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, didn’t give an online poker bill that cleared a Senate committee Wednesday evening much of a chance for success if it manages to make it to his legislative chamber. “I would guess pretty dim” was Paulsen’s assessment of Senate Study Bill 3164. “I actually don’t think there’s much interest in the General Assembly in addressing it other than in the Senate State Government Committee. That panel voted 11-4 to bring illegal online poker under state regulation. The Senate proposal would allow the state Racing and Gaming Commission to establish a structure whereby competing hub operators would partner with state-licensed casinos to provide access to online sites for registered players ages 21 and older who were located within Iowa’s borders at the time they engaged in the Internet-based activity. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said online poker had a 50-50 chance of winning approval from the full Senate this session.
VOTER LIST MAINTENANCE: Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz said Thursday his office is working with Iowa’s 99 counties on the annual statewide process for voter list maintenance. He said the process is designed to increase the accuracy of the voter registration lists by verifying or updating a voter’s address information and status. Each county can choose one of two methods for this maintenance. He said 41 counties have chosen to conduct a countywide mailing and are mailing a confirmation notice to each registered voter in their county. The other 58 counties have chosen to participate in the national change of address program. Those counties are identifying registered voters of the county who have moved within the county or moved outside the county. Each notice sent by county auditors is by forwardable mail and includes a postage prepaid preaddressed return form. Voters may use the return card to verify their current registration address or provide a corrected registration address to their county auditor. Voters are encouraged to return this card if they have moved from the address printed so that their voter registration information can be appropriately updated. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 provides various constraints on the ability to actually remove voters from the lists. County auditors will be updating their voter registration information based on the response from the voters, and Iowa’s list of active voters will be more accurate as we approach the 2012 election season. More information is available at the www.sos.iowa.gov Web site.
RETURN OF TANCREDO: Former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, an unsuccessful candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, returned to Iowa Thursday to push for Iowa to join a national popular vote compact that would end the reliance on the “winner take all” electoral process of electing a U.S. president. Tancredo and other proponents of Senate File 277 said the current system allows fraudulent voting and regional issues to trump the national focus should be paramount in choosing a president. He said battleground states like Iowa still would play a pivotal role in a national popular vote because it provides a less expensive media market and a large number of independent, swing voters that would be needed to win a national election. However, Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, a member of a Senate subcommittee that did not forward the issue for debate this session, said he feared Iowa would be ignored if the system shifted away from the Electoral College process. Tancredo spent considerable time campaigning in Iowa prior to the 2008 precinct caucuses and finished second as the Constitution Party nominee in Colorado’s 2010 gubernatorial election. He currently runs the Rocky Mountain Foundation.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Some of these bills have the half life of plutonium so the conversation is never really over.” – Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, in discussing the Legislature’s “funnel” process whereby non-money bills introduced in the 2012 session had to clear at least one standing committee in the House or Senate by Friday to remain eligible for debate this year.