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Rep. Steckman: “Public schools come first”

The following is a legislative update from Rep. Sharon Steckman of Mason City –

Lori Elbermawy and Lindsay Duerow with the Crisis Intervention Service visited with Sharon Steckman at the Statehouse on Tuesday.

Next week is “Funnel Week” which means that bills have to be passed out of committee by March 3 or they die. (Certain funding bills are exempt from this rule.) So work will intensify as there is quite a stack of bills in such committees as State Government and Education. Since I serve on both, I have been busy with subcommittee meetings. The subcommittee must pass a bill in order for it to proceed to the full committee for consideration. Then, it is up to majority party leadership to decide if the bill will be voted on by the whole committee by March 3, and therefore, be allowed to proceed to the chamber floor for debate.

The result of this process is that many bills that have been proposed never come to the floor for debate. The public can go to the legislative website (www.legis.iowa.gov) and follow a bill’s progress as long as they know the bill’s number.

Currently, there are 71 bills that have been assigned to the Education committee. As of the 22nd, five bills were actually passed out of committee. While that is probably a good thing, it also means that next week will be very busy as proponents of various ideas push to have them stay alive.

Some bills have been introduced that concern me greatly.

Four counties in Iowa have recently increased the minimum wage but there is a bill (HF 295) supported by the majority party that will roll these increases back. All of the surrounding states except Wisconsin have increased their minimum wage and the last time Iowa did was in 2008. If this bill passes, it will mean all counties and cities will have a $7.25 minimum wage. HF 295 (the pre-emption bill) also does not allow counties or cities to enact environmental standards higher than the state’s.

Another bill that concerns me is HSB 138 which removes the boards and licensing requirements for funeral directors, respiratory and massage therapists, mental health counselors, athletic trainers, speech pathologists, hearing aid specialists, social workers, marital and family therapists and several others. Why would this be a good idea?

Education Savings accounts are also being proposed. SF 29 will create a voucher program that allows students to receive state tax dollars to attend private, religious or home schools and will cost about $200 million per year. These children already receive help from the state that goes toward tuition, transportation and textbooks to the tune of about $52 million per year. An outside interest group has stated that this bill is their top priority to get done in the Iowa legislature this year.

These are just three examples. I look forward to the end of funnel week with the hope that common sense will prevail.

Bill Eliminating Iowa Worker’s Rights Signed into Law

In just over a week, Republicans at the State Capitol unraveled 40 years of teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, and other working Iowans having a voice in their own workplace.

After the bill was signed in to law on Friday, a lawsuit was filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) challenging the constitutionality of the legislation because it does not treat all public workers the same.

Written behind closed doors without input from Iowa workers, House File 291 guts public sector collective bargaining rights and returns working Iowans to a system where the political party in power has the right to decide the fate of all public employees. Under the new law, teachers, nurses, and other working Iowans are prohibited from discussing workplace conditions and how their job is done.

Last week, Republicans ignored the thousands of Iowans who showed up to the Capitol to make their concerns heard and refused to listen to the people who contacted them through email, phone, and in person at packed legislative forums. After it passed on Thursday, Governor Branstad signed the bill the next morning in a private ceremony closed to the public, but open to corporate-backed special interest lobbyists.

As the bill was fast tracked by Republicans, many bargaining units across the state quickly negotiated and approved new agreements before the new law took effect. Now that the bill has been signed, any contracts that were being negotiated and not completed must start over under the new provisions of the bill.

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