A roundup of legislative and Capitol items of interest for Tuesday, March 20:
PUBLIC RECORDS PANEL: A House subcommittee approved legislation that creates the Iowa Public Information Board, a new entity that can levy fines on government bodies that knowingly violate the open records law. The board will have an executive director who will also serve as a one-stop-shop for answers to public records inquiries. The legislation, Senate File 430, allows the board to levy fines of between $1,000 and $2,500 against government bodies or people in those governments who are found to have purposely violated the law. The legislation to create the board has been in the works for several years and the board has taken several different forms during that time. As proposed now, the board is comprised of a member of the ombudsman’s office, a member nominated by the Iowa Broadcaster’s Association, one nominated by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, one by the Iowa Newspaper Association, one by the Iowa League of Cities, one by the Iowa Association of School Boards and one by the Iowa State Association of Counties. Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, said he expects there will be an amendment on the House floor that will remove the ombudsman’s office from membership and also requires a gender and political balance on the board. Ombudsman Ruth Cooperrider said she asked to be removed from the board because she felt that the office should not take on a role where it can levy fines.
SHUTTERBUGS AT AG AGENCY: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey announced Tuesday that the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is kicking off a “Spring Facebook Fun Photo Contest.” Iowans are invited to submit photos that showcase the beauty of spring in Iowa through the department’s Facebook page, which can be accessed through the department’s website at www.iowaagriculture.gov, the ag secretary said. “Spring is a great time in Iowa and presents tremendous opportunities to enjoy nature and take pictures,” Northey said in a statement. “Iowans did such a great job capturing the beautiful harvest season last fall and I can’t wait to see the photos that are posted of spring. Like last fall, this contest is open to everyone regardless of age or photography experience, I expect we will see a number of breathtaking photos.” The contest starts immediately and will run through May 31. The photos will be judged on the number of “likes” each photo receives and the winner will receive an award certificate from Northey, naming them the first spring winner of what the Department hopes to be an annual event. Last fall, Sharon Roberts from Marengo was the winner of the department’s first “Facebook Fall Fun Photo Contest.”
STATEWIDE CONFERENCE: Historic preservationists, owners of historic properties and others are encouraged to register for next month’s statewide preservation conference in Decorah. The 2012 Statewide Historic Preservation Conference will be April 27-28 at the Hotel Winneshiek, which itself is a showplace of historic preservation with 30 individually decorated rooms, completely restored interior, and the adjacent Steyer Opera House. The conference will focus on developing historic preservation for the future with 12 workshops featuring a variety of topics ranging from the mechanics of historic preservation tax credits to historic window and masonry restoration, and cemetery and burial preservation. The keynote speaker will be Donovan Rypkema, a nationally recognized expert on the Economics of Historic Preservation. Conference attendees will also have the opportunity to tour historic sites in the Decorah area: Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, the Porter House Museum, Fort Atkinson and the Decorah Historic District. For more information, visit www.ishpc.org to register, or contact Laurann Gilbertson at email@example.com or Paula Mohr at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-281-6826.
FIXUP ADVICE: The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is offering tips to homeowners who may be considering home repairs and improvement projects with the arrival of spring weather. Officials in the AG’s consumer protection division notes that home repair and home improvement scams are among the top complaints they receive. Fraudulent activities include contractors who ask for substantial up-front payments, do little or no work, or never finish the job right. It can also include contractors who offer a low price and then unrealistically charge more as the job progresses, otherwise known as “lowballing.” There also are “fly-by-night” traveling con artists working their roofing, paving, chimney repair, and “green energy” improvement scams. Also, tree trimming and “storm chaser” con artists often show up in the wake of damaging storms, according to the AG’s Office. Among the AG’s advice: watch for scams at your doorstep, where someone shows up and says your driveway needs repaving or your house needs new shingles – and they “just happen to have materials left over” at a big discount; check out and interview contractors before signing a contract or paying any money; request local references and contact them; and check on complaints with the Attorney General’s Office (515-281-5926, 888-777-4590 or www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov) and check with the Better Business Bureau. Other tips include getting several written estimates, getting a contract in writing, and avoiding large-sum payments or paying for the entire job up front.
AG TRADE MISSION TO CHINA: U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday that his agency will lead an agricultural trade mission to China this month to strengthen partnerships between U.S. and Chinese businesses and enhance job growth in the United States. The delegation will include Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and representatives of 12 Iowa businesses. The Iowa companies participating in the trip include equipment, seed, pork, and feed companies that are looking to expand their businesses through trade with China. The trade mission from Friday through March 28 is expected to be the USDA’s largest to date with more than 40 U.S. agribusinesses and representatives from six state Departments of Agriculture set to accompany Acting Under Secretary Michael Scuse to Chengdu and Shanghai — two of China’s largest cities. Currently Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is participating in a trade mission to China with members of the Iowa Soybean Association.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “One male, one female. One man, one woman.” – Family Leader Bob Vander Plaats advocating for an amendment that bans same-sex marriage during a rally at the state Capitol Tuesday.