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Capitol Digest 3-13-12

James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

COURT ON CAMPUS: The Iowa Supreme Court will conduct oral arguments March 29, including an appeal by Mark Becker, who was convicted of the first-degree murder of Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas.

The court will hear arguments in Drake University Sheslow Auditorium, 2507 University Ave., Des Moines, starting at 9 a.m.

The oral arguments are part of Drake University Law School’s Supreme Court Celebration. This annual event is designed to help law students become more familiar with appellate court procedure and arguments. Following the arguments, the justices will participate in a question-and-answer session with the students. The oral arguments are open to the public streamed live at

The court also will hear arguments in a medical malpractice case arising from the 2009 death of Erika Anderson from skin cancer.

To see the briefs filed by the attorneys, visit

ALTERNATIVE LICENSES: The Iowa House approved legislation that makes it easier for professionals who work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, careers to become high school teachers.

The legislation, House File 2385, allows professionals with a bachelor’s degree and 6,000 or more hours of work in a relevant field to obtain a teaching license. The bill was approved on a 61-36 vote that split largely along party lines. Critics of the legislation said the alternative licensure route doesn’t allow prospective teachers time in front of a class as training.

“This is not an attack on the teaching profession,” said Rep. Josh Byrnes, R-Osage, floor manager of the bill. “This is to address the shortage of STEM teachers in this state.”

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Tuesday, March 13, 2012:

COST OF CUTS: Closing corporate tax loopholes on out-of-state corporations and making the richest 1 percent of Iowans pay their fair share in taxes could offset revenue lost from a deal to cut corporate property taxes and actually strengthen vital public services, according to a new report titled “The cost of cuts in Iowa: Budget cuts hurt families, communities, and the economy” by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (CCI Action), Iowa Citizen Action Network, the Iowa Mainstreet Alliance, and the Alliance for a Just Society.

“UNI is slashing more than a quarter of its academic programs, 37 workforce development offices have closed, the DNR doesn’t have the factory farm field staff to enforce clean water laws anymore, and Branstad’s proposal to cut corporate property taxes threatens local governments’ ability to deliver what little critical public services we have left,” said Kenn Bowen, a retired communications worker and Vietnam veteran from Winterset.

According to the report, 580 jobs are lost with every 1 percent in spending cuts, Iowa lawmakers have cut spending by 15 percent since 2009 and 27 percent since 2001, Iowa’s richest 1 percent only pays 6 percent of their income in state and local taxes and Iowa’s poorest families pay 11 percent of their income in state and local taxes.

TARGETTING OBESITY: Iowa’s Department of Public Health is throwing its weight behind a national effort to combat obesity. The state health agency has been chosen to lead one of 50 teams that will participate in “Collaborate for Healthy Weight,” an effort led by the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality in partnership with the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Teams — ranging in size from a single town to an entire state — will learn from national experts, exchange ideas, and create plans for becoming best practice models for other communities to follow. The initiative focuses on local partnerships between primary care providers, public health professionals, and leaders of community-based organizations.

Iowa’s team will focus on northeast Iowa, with an emphasis on increasing locally grown healthy food while promoting physical activity opportunities in rural areas. The team includes representatives from Central Community School, Central Community Hospital, Clayton County Public Health, Guttenberg Municipal Hospital, Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness, University of Iowa College of Public Health and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Department of Pediatrics. The project will run through February 2013.\

For more information on the initiative, visit the Web site.

ENDING REFUNDABLE TAX CREDITS: A Senate subcommittee began work Tuesday on a bill that would end the refundability of Iowa’s research activities tax credit effective next Jan. 1.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said Iowa’s current 6.5 percent refundable tax credit for research activities is more like a grant because many of the recipients have no tax liability. Senate Study Bill 3192 proposes to make the tax credits nonrefundable, but allows a “carry forward” for seven years if an applying company incurs a tax liability during that period.

The latest yearly report issued last month by the Iowa Department of Revenue indicated that 181 corporations claimed a total of $47.6 million in research activities tax credits in 2011, including three large corporations received over $31 million in Iowa research subsidies without paying any state income tax. Overall, $44.9 million was paid as refunds to 131 claimants that paid no state income tax because they had more credits than tax liability.

John Gilliland of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry said Iowa is one of 36 states that offer a tax credit for research activities and is one of six states where the credit is refundable. He said the program makes Iowa an attractive and competitive place for research activities that attract and retain high-wage jobs. Gilliland said that activity amounted to nearly $1 billion in private investment in Iowa in 2006.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he was uncertain what future the issue had in the full Senate and was doubtful the GOP-led House would take up the bill if it managed to win Senate approval.

GOP SENATE CAMPAIGN: Tracie Gibler, an experienced Iowa political professional, will direct the Republican campaign efforts to regain majority control of the Iowa Senate in the 2010 general election in November.

Senate GOP Leader Jerry Behn of Boone said Gibler – a native of Ottumwa — has extensive Iowa campaign and political experience, including most recently serving as Iowa GOP caucus-to-convention coordinator and director for the Senate District 18 special election held last fall in Linn County. Before that, Gibler served as the Iowa political director for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign. She also was campaign manager for Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ 2010 campaign for Congress.

ONLINE LEARNING: The Iowa Department of Education was within its rights when it allowed two school districts to contract with for-profit companies that run online schools. In an opinion released Tuesday, Attorney General Tom Miller wrote that state statute “permit the use of telecommunications by private companies to deliver educational courses to students open-enrolled from other school districts.”

The opinion supports the view of officials at the department of education who worked with CAM Community School District and Clayton Ridge Community School District when the district contracted with private online learning companies. Both districts anticipate opening online academies this fall

“I appreciate that the attorney general has validated that these programs are within the law, and the Iowa Department of Education acted appropriately and within its legal authority,” Department of Education Director Jason Glass said in a statement issued after Miller’s opinion was released.

Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, who had asked for Miller’s opinion, also issued a statement in which he called the decision “a setback.”

“This debate isn’t about whether there’s a place for technology in our classrooms to augment and improve learning opportunities that weren’t available in the past. There is bipartisan support for such innovation,” Courtney said in the release. “This debate is about whether we want to hand over the education of thousands of Iowa children to for-profit, out-of-state companies that will rely on 100 percent online classes, without the need for students to ever set foot in a classroom with a teacher.”

Miller’s opinion can be read online here:

Quote of the Day: “I think we softened some hearts, but didn’t change any minds.” – Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, on discussion of HF 561 regarding nuclear energy

–Compiled by the Des Moines Bureau

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