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Legislative update from Rep. Sharon Steckman

“On Thursday, March 16th, I welcomed advocates and fellow Mason City residents, Carrie and Caleb Helland, Sara, Joe, Bernadette and Jackie Bohl. The group was advocating on behalf of the Epilepsy Foundation.”

From Rep. Sharon Steckman –

Last week, I mentioned a couple bills that were in the process of being brought to the floor for debate. The bill which calls for a Constitutional Convention (House Joint Resolution 12) was passed in the House this week and will, no doubt, also be passed by the Senate. This same bill is currently being presented to a number of state legislatures across the country. If thirty-four states pass it, the Convention may be called for the purpose of amending the Constitution.

There were several questions raised during the debate that went unanswered by the majority party.

To date, all amendments to the Constitution have been provided through the alternative process which involves the amendment being proposed by the Congress and passed by three-fourths of the states (38). The stated purpose of HJR 12 is “to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government”. Once more, this bill comes to us through the auspices of the organization called ALEC.

“I was pleased to meet Michael Van Essen who recently moved to Mason City from California. Michael was brought to Iowa to serve as the Regional Outreach Liaison of HIV/STD/Hepatitis for the Iowa Department of Public Health. Welcome to Mason City Michael!”

HF 517, requiring voter ID’s which make it harder for some Iowans to vote, passed on a strictly party-line vote. The bill maintains that the state will mail voter ID cards to those who do not have a driver’s license. The cost of doing that and possibly defending against law suits is estimated at millions of dollars…all spent to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Iowa currently ranks #2 in the country on voter integrity. Such laws have already been challenged in court in ten states.

Speaking of dollars, we received more budget bad news this week. The non-partisan Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) is now estimating that the total budget shortfall for 2017 will reach a total of a quarter of a billion dollars. More information on that is included in the article below.

I was pleased that we passed HF 564 which will allow school districts more flexibility in the use of designated accounts. That means that they can move money around if necessary from accounts that have carry-forward balances to accounts where more funds are needed. However, I was disappointed that two amendments concerning energy efficiency and per pupil equity offered by my caucus were defeated and not included in the bill.

“John Cardin and his son, Tristan visited the Statehouse for their Spring Break. It was great to see them!”

Today, (Thursday) we will be debating HF 518, another bill that will severely affect worker’s rights. It has been described as a “legal minefield” and that “would create disposable workers”. Again, we are solving a problem that doesn’t exist. According to the Insurance Journal’s ranking system, Iowa earned an “A” grade for “Strengths in low politicization, fiscal efficiency and workers’ comp market competitiveness…Weaknesses – none”. In Iowa, premiums have dropped three times in the last four years and we are 11% below the average premium cost across the nation. We obviously have been doing the right things for our workers and their employers. Once again, this is an ALEC bill.

Iowa is not a cookie cutter state, so why are we passing cookie-cutter laws?

I have received many emails and letters protesting these laws. Please know that I am paying attention and will continue to fight as hard as I can.

State Budget Goes in Red for 2nd Time This Year
The state’s non-partisan budget experts said the state budget is in deficit again and lawmakers will have to find another $131 million to keep the state budget balanced this year.

The non-partisan Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) met on Tuesday and reduced their projected revenue for fiscal year 2017 (FY17), which ends on June 30, 2017, to $7.1 billion. The Governor and Republicans are signaling that they plan on taking the $131 million shortfall from the state’s reserve funds, which are full at $738 million.

The members of the REC noted that the growth in Iowa’s economy is slow, but we still have unprecedentedly low unemployment rates, commodity prices seem to be stabilizing, and home sales remain strong. Two revenue items that didn’t meet their expected levels are sales taxes and income taxes.

Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers had to make an additional $114 million in budget adjustments and those have already been signed into law.

FY 2018 & 2019

For the fiscal year 2018 state budget, which the Legislature must approve before adjourning this year, budget experts told lawmakers there will be $192 million less in revenue than previously predicted with revenues totaling $7.36 billion. After applying Iowa’s 99% expenditure limitation, the Legislature can appropriate just under $7.3 billion for FY 2018. Fiscal year 2018 begins on July 1, 2017, and runs through June 30, 2018.

This was the first time that the REC made a prediction for FY 2019, and they predicted 3.6% growth, showing revenue at $7.6 billion.

Lower Wages for 65,000 Iowans Passes House
Instead of increasing the minimum wage, Republican lawmakers approved a bill last week that lowers wages for 65,000 Iowans.

Passed on a party line vote, the bill would preempt local ordinances on wages and products sold. After waiting for Iowa lawmakers to act for nearly a decade, four counties have recently increased the minimum wage in their own community to finally give a boost to the lowest wage earners. The bill, House File 295, takes away the minimum wage increases already approved in some Iowa communities.

Now set at $7.25 per hour, Iowa’s minimum wage was last increased in 2008 and every state surrounding Iowa (except Wisconsin) has increased their minimum wage above $7.25. To meet basic living expenses, a single person in Iowa resident should make at least $13.16 an hour and that rises to $21.52 an hour for a single parent with one child. One of the counties that took action to increase the minimum wage is Wapello County, which has the 3rd highest poverty rate in Iowa and 2nd lowest per-capita income.

The bill will now go to the Iowa Senate for further consideration.

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