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Iowa House votes for later school-year start

James Q. Lynch, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

DES MOINES – Families can pencil in a visit to the Iowa State Fair, the Iowa Great Lakes or any other late summer tourist attraction thanks to legislation to delay the start of the school year until the fourth Monday in August.

That is unless they can’t afford a vacation, opponents of the Iowa House File 2462 said during debate April 10. The bill, which faces an uncertain future in the Senate where similar legislation has been approved in the past, cleared the House on a bipartisan 56-44 vote.

The House also voted 59-40 along party lines to approve a $2.9 billion “standings” budget that includes provisions calling for state employees and elected officials to pay 25 percent of their health insurance premiums, which would represent a $50 million savings to taxpayers.

The state now pays about $328 million a year in health insurance premiums to cover about 80,000 people, according to the Department of Administrative Services. About 87 percent of state employees pay no monthly premium. Paying one-quarter of the premium would cost employees between $200 and $300 a month.

HF 2465, the annual “standings bill” that includes a variety of appropriations, includes a $55 million increase to fully fund property tax credits and a $34.6 million increase to bring K-12 education spending to $2.6 billion, said floor manager Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion. The House plan is about $22 million less than the governor’s budget.

In adopting the standings bill, the House approved increases in line items for child abuse prevention and the Congenital and Inherited Disorders Central Registry, but refused to increase funds for the Department of Education for Children At-Risk Programs.

A Democratic amendment outlining how the Iowa Taxpayers Relief Fund will be used was adopted 94-1. Other than temporary cash flow purposes, the funds shall be used to provide tax relief for personal income tax reduction, homeowner property tax reduction or sales tax reduction.

Still another amendment adopted 90-7 called for paying the college tuition for the children of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. However, an amendment to create an education trust fund was rejected 38-59. Wagner noted already 60 percent of general fund spending is for education.

In debating the school start date, House members touted the benefits of a later school start for the state’s tourism industry. Opponents of the bill, which popped up after typical legislative deadlines had passed, argued the school start date was a matter of local control. They also argued that nearly a third of Iowa families with students in school can’t afford vacations.

In 2006, the Senate voted 40-9 to require schools start no earlier than Aug. 25. However, the following year an amendment by Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, whose district includes the Iowa Great Lakes, died on a 25-25 bipartisan vote.

He offered a similar amendment to the education reform bill, but withdrew it.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, has assured him the House bill “will get a chance to move through the process,” Johnson said.

The House also approved a change in state law to retain the Department of Natural Resources’ “Chickadee Check-Off” and three other charity options Iowans see on their state tax forms. The check-offs raise about $350,000 a year.

Under current law, when the same four income tax return check-offs have been on the state income tax form for two consecutive years, the two that have raised the least amounts are automatically repealed.

The “Chickadee Check-Off” is the most popular check-off charity followed by the State Fair Foundation, or “Corn Dog Check-off.”

However, SF 2325 would retain the check-offs that raise funds to help veterans and firefighters and a program to prevent child abuse.

There only is room to list four charities on the paper state income tax form, which is the way about 200,000 Iowans file, according to the Department of Revenue.

The bill has been approved by the Senate 48-0.

On a voice vote, the House refused to concur with the Senate on HF 2337, a revised, $62 million budget for economic development programs that included $20 million for state business incentives, $200,000 to keep the Iowa Film Office operating, and $2.3 million to maintain or reopen Iowa Workforce Development field offices.

The budget will go to a conference committee.

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