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Legislative update from Rep. Sharon Steckman

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

Annual Sales Tax Holiday Weekend August 4-5

Iowa’s annual sales tax holiday is the first weekend in August, which is Friday, August 4th, and Saturday, April 5th, this year. The holiday does not include Sunday. Sales tax, including any local taxes, is not collected on clothing and footwear that sells for less than $100. No sales tax will be charged on any number of items, as long as the price of each item is less than $100.

Every business that is open on Friday and Saturday will be participating in the Sales Tax Holiday. There is a Sales Tax Holiday line included on the sales tax return, and any qualifying sales made during the Sales Tax Holiday are deducted as exemptions on the quarterly sales tax form.

The sales tax holiday does not apply to watches, jewelry, sporting equipment, handbags or wallets. Store coupons and discounts can reduce the sales price below $100 to qualify for the Sales Tax Holiday, but manufacturer coupons cannot. If items are usually sold as a unit, those items cannot be split up so that each piece qualifies for the $100 requirement. Items that are sold under a promotion such as “Buy one, get one free” cannot be averaged to get below the limit.

Additional information on the annual sales tax holiday can be found at

Iowans Depend on Well Run Retirement System

In Iowa when a promise is made it is expected to be kept, especially when it comes to the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Iowans. The legislature has made a promise to many Iowans, including police officers, nurses, teachers, firefighters, correctional officers, and countless other professions, that they will be able to retire with dignity and respect after their service to the state.

That’s why many Iowans were alarmed to see that the largest retirement system in Iowa is under scrutiny from a Libertarian-based special interest group and some Iowa GOP lawmakers. While little notice was given to the general public, a meeting was held to hear from representatives of the Reason Foundation that are offering a free review of Iowa’s pension system, known as IPERS.

However, many lawmakers and state officials are concerned the special interest group wants to dismantle the state’s retirement system, which they’ve recommended in other states.

Despite the criticism from the special interest group, representatives from Iowa’s retirement system said the state’s retirement system is well run and on track to keep the promises that they have made to working Iowans.

Iowans depend on a well-managed retirement plan that guarantees retirement security and freedom as well as protection for the taxpayer. House Democrats have consistently been proactive in addressing any potential problems and making sure the state protects the retirement security of Iowans.

When working families sit down around the kitchen table and plan for the future, the ability to retire with dignity and respect is a worry for too many. Families, regardless of profession, deserve retirement security now and in the future.

Counties Affected by July Storms Eligible for Financial Assistance

Residents in counties located in northeastern Iowa that have been affected by the storms that occurred on July 11th and 19th are eligible to apply for grants through Iowa’s Individual Disaster Assistance Grant Program (IIAGP) to assist with things such as replacing personal property and temporary housing. Residents in the following counties are eligible to apply: Allamakee, Bremer, Buchanan, Chickasaw, Clayton, Clinton, Dubuque, Fayette, Floyd, Johnson, Kossuth, and Winneshiek.

Those who would like to apply for a grant cannot have an income above 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, and there is a limit as to how much each household can be awarded. Applications are due September 6th for residents of all counties but Chickasaw, Dubuque, Floyd, and Kossuth. Residents in those four counties have until September 8th to turn in their applications. For more details, please visit, or call 866-434-4692.

The Iowa Concern Hotline, 800-447-1985, is available 24/7 to assist anyone in need of counseling.

Iowa has Opted-In to FirstNET

FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority) is an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce that is charged with the responsibility of building, operating, and maintaining the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.

This network will give priority to police, fire fighters, and other emergency workers during an emergency. Through the Governor, Iowa has chosen to opt-in to the network infrastructure plan created by AT&T, rather than build and maintain our own system. First responders at the state and local levels will pay a subscriber fee to access this system, just as if they chose to have AT&T be their cellular provider.

AT&T won the bid to be the nation’s vendor for the next 25 years, and will be building this cell network using some of their already existing system, giving those first responders the ability to access a network separate from the public’s network. Having this separate network will ensure safer and faster communication between first responders in times of need.

It is estimated that in Iowa it will take five years for AT&T to build out the system, which will leverage existing infrastructure owned by the state and AT&T before building new towers and laying new fiber. More information about FirstNET can be found at

Iowa Departments Encourage Guidance After Head Injury Report

After a national report linking deaths of football players to head injuries, the Iowa Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Iowa Department of Education (DE) have encouraged Concussion Management Guidelines.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows researchers have detected Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, in 99% or 110 of 111 brains of former NFL players. CTE is a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head. CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously, and symptoms include memory loss, confusion, difficulty balancing, depression, anxiety and dementia, according to the Brain Injury Research Institute.

After the report was released, DPH and DE released a statement encouraging the use of guidelines to manage concussions that can be used by health care providers, coaches, teachers and parents. The voluntary guidelines include information and resources Iowa schools can utilize when forming their multi-disciplinary concussion management teams and implementing concussion management protocols. These guidelines can be found at:

DPH and DE emphasize that managing concussions should include removing the child from physical activity and reducing cognitive stimulation like texting and social media. Any student, not just a student athlete, can be affected by getting hurt on the playground or riding their bike. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as many as 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occur in the U.S. each year; however, when concussions are properly recognized and managed within the first few weeks after injury, most individuals recover without lingering symptoms.

Concussions Bill Still Waiting Action in the Senate

The Iowa House during the Legislative session passed HF 563 that required coaches to be trained in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) by July 1, 2018. The girls and boys Iowa High School Athletic Unions are required to work together to develop return-to-play protocol for a student athlete that has sustained a concussion. HF 563 is still alive and can be addressed by the Senate during the 2018 session.

Iowa Ranks Near the Bottom in Students Taking a Foreign Language

Iowa is used to being near the top in education rankings, but not in the latest study. With a posting of a dismal 15%, Iowa ranks 35th in the country in the percent of K-12 students who were enrolled in a foreign language course according to the American Councils for International Education and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

There were four Midwest states in the study that ranked in the top 20 including Wisconsin, coming in at number three. Wisconsin starts foreign language at 7th grade, while Iowa requires it starting in high school. Wisconsin also encourages elementary instruction, but that is very rare in Iowa. Previous studies have shown that the earlier someone learns a foreign language, the easier it is retained.

Every year since 2010, Representative Ako Abdul-Samad of Des Moines has introduced a World Language Education Pilot program bill. The bill is aimed at enhancing foreign language being taught in elementary schools. The bill has had several subcommittees, but has yet to make it out of committee.

However, the biggest issue with foreign language programs in Iowa has been the dismal amount of PreK-12 school funding provided by Republicans over the last seven years known as State Supplemental Aid. The latest round for next school year provided only a 1.11% increase, or a mere $73 in the cost per pupil.

Superintendents have indicated that low school funding has led to lower course offerings including foreign language programs. Less courses means less teachers hired in foreign languages or current teachers are let go. This only discourages students in teacher prep programs from taking foreign language as a teaching career, and thus creates a shortage of foreign language teachers.

Schools Partner up to Develop a Cyber Security Degree Path

Iowa and the nation as a whole are facing a severe shortage of cyber security workers, with some estimates of over 300,000 unfilled cyber security jobs in 2016 alone. According to Cybersecurity Business Report, cybercrime damage costs are projected to reach $6 trillion annually by 2021.

Now, a partnership between Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) and Iowa State University (ISU) called the Iowa Cyber Hub™ will try to address that skills gap shortage and increase the number of cyber security professionals in Iowa. It will build capacity to train the cyber security workforce for the future.

The new DMACC programs in cyber security will transfer to ISU, and provide students several pathways to a degree. It is designed to meet the needs of both full-time and part-time working students. DMACC and ISU will also be working with middle schools and high schools to motivate future student’s interested in cyber security.

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