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Legislative update from Iowa Democrats

The following is a legislative update from Iowa Democrats:

Students Head Back to Classroom; Some Reforms Coming Next Year

As students return to the classroom starting on August 23rd this year, most local school budgets faced another year of belt tightening.  While state revenues grew by 4.9% over last year, Republican lawmakers increased state funding by just 1% this year, which is well below the cost of inflation.  This makes eight of the last nine years of record low K-12 funding approved by the current legislative leadership.

Districts this year with the highest transportation costs will be provided assistance, but not long-term funding.  Since some rural districts have a small number of students but geographically cover hundreds of square miles, they spend a large amount of their budget on transportation costs instead of in the classroom.  They will have to wait until next year for a possible long-term solution.

Many of the significant reforms passed this legislative session will also not be effective until next year as well. This includes suicide prevention training, concussion protocols, and school emergency operation plans to address school safety.  Those trainings and protocols are not required to be in place until next school year and the Majoirty party chose not to fund these mandates for our schools.

Despite low performing online pilot programs, the current Legislative leadership chose to expand online learning.  The bill allows any school district to provide online courses through a private provider.  Students are allowed to open enroll with no cap on the number of students, however, students and parents have until March 1, 2019 to open enroll to a different district for next school year.

School Lunch Food Shaming

One bi-partisan piece of legislation going into effect this year was the elimination of school lunch “food shaming”.  Iowa became the ninth known state at the time to pass a law protecting children for being disciplined for not having sufficient funds in their school lunch accounts.

Under the bill, the following actions are no longer being allowed as these actions humiliate or “shame” a student because they cannot pay for the meal, including the following; 1) Requiring the student to consume the meal at a table set aside for students who owe a meal debt; 2) Having a student discard a meal after it has been served; 3) Requiring a student to wear a wrist band, hand stamp, or other identifying marks, or do chores or work to pay for their meal;  and 4) Denying participation in afterschool program or other extracurricular activities.

Voting Restrictions in Limbo after Court Ruling  

Saying it interferes with Iowans’ right to vote, a district court put a hold on new controversial early voting restrictions and misleading advertising by the Iowa Secretary of State.

The court blocked provisions of the legislation that included shortening the early voting period and increased regulations on absentee ballot requests. Voters will still be asked to show an ID in the November election but are not required to have one in order to vote.

The district court ruled that the state’s argument of providing more integrity to Iowa’s election fell flat because it failed to prove the “threat” that these new regulations would have solved.  The case was brought to court by an Iowa State student and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The ruling by the District Court has been appealed by the Secretary of State and will be heard by the Iowa Supreme Court on August 9th.

In 2016 there was one case of voter impersonation fraud in Iowa, when a woman voted twice at the polls for then candidate Donald Trump and was caught.

Trump Tariff Fight Escalates

A trade war with Iowa’s biggest trading partners shows no sign of ending as the Trump Administration threatened to impose another round of new taxes on $200 billion of Chinese goods and the Chinese have pledged again to match that. Amid the increasing trade tension, President Trump also pledged $12 billion in direct aid to farmers who may be hurt by the trade war, but no details about the program have been released.

Iowa has been particularly hard hit by the continuing trade disputes. The US Chamber of Commerce estimates that the impact on Iowa could be as much as $977 million. An economist at Iowa State University estimates that Iowa farmers stand to lose up to $624 million because of the tariffs on soybeans alone. Iowa is number one in pork production, number one in production of ethanol, and number two in soybean production.

Mexico and China are the two biggest markets for U.S. pork in the world. The United States exports $1.5 billion in pork to Mexico and the Chinese market purchased $1.1 billion in U.S. Pork last year. China accounts for nearly 60 percent of the global soybean trade, and about one of every three rows of U.S. soybean production.

During the 2018 legislative session, Iowa Republican lawmakers refused to join others and send a strong bi-partisan message to the Trump Administration about the economic harm that would come to Iowa producers because of tariffs.

As the disagreement with China escalates, tariffs implemented by the Trump Administration with Mexico, Canada, and the European Union still remain in place. After implementation of the latest round of tariffs, the US trade deficit in June was the highest in ten years.

College Tuition Rates Rise Again

As students at public universities and community colleges start back to school, they will face stepped up higher tuition costs. The approved increases will be 3.8% for Iowa State University and the University of Iowa while the University of Northern Iowa will see a 2.8% increase. The announcement of tuition increases are due to the budget cuts approved during the 2018 session, and signed by the Governor.

While the Regents sought a $12 million increase that would be targeted to student financial aid, the General Assembly approved a budget that was $2.6 million less than the previous year, and $12.4 million less than two years ago.

Meanwhile, community colleges in Iowa did not fare better with many raising tuition for the upcoming school year. This is due to last year’s mid-school year budget cut that left them with a $3.1 million reduction. This legislative session brought only a $2 million increase back up, but still short from where they started the 2016-17 school year.

The increase in tuition could lead to more Iowa students looking at out-of-state schools in bordering states that offer lower tuition for Iowa students.

Hunting and Fishing Licenses Increasing

During the last legislative session, a bill was approved that allows the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to raise the fees for hunting and fishing. Previously those fees were in Iowa Code and had to be set by Iowa lawmakers. It has been more than a decade since the legislature approved a fee increase for licenses.

Under the new legislation, only small increases in fees are allowed every year and are not to exceed 5%. This standard will be periodically evaluated, at least once every three years. Revenue from the fee increase will be deposited into the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund which is used to improve the habitat for the wildlife of Iowa. The DNR needs the increase in revenue due to their budget being cut almost in half in recent years.

The public is encouraged to submit comments on the fee increases through August 21st. Visit for the list of all fee increases. Comments can be emailed to or mailed to Joe Larscheid, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wallace State Office Building, 502 East Ninth Street, Des Moines, Iowa, 50319. In addition to written submitted comments, the DNR has scheduled six public hearings around the state on August 21st. The public is invited to attend and make comments about the proposed fees.

Wallace State Office Building
502 East 9th Street, Des Moines, IA 4W Conference Room
Noon – 2 p.m.

Spirit Lake Hatchery
122 252nd Avenue, Spirit Lake, IA Conference Room
Noon – 2 p.m.

Ventura Wildlife Office
15300 Balsam Ave, Ventura, IA Conference Room
Noon – 2 p.m.

Cold Springs District Office
57744 Lewis Rd., Lewis, IA Conference Room
Noon – 2 p.m.

Delaware County Conservation Board
2379 Jefferson Rd, Manchester, IA Conference Room
Noon – 2 p.m.

Lake Darling District Office
110 Lake Darling Road, Brighton, IA Conference Room
Noon – 2 p.m.

Iowa Continues to Crack Down on Drunk Driving

During the 2018 legislative session, lawmakers made changes to Iowa’s dram shop law by capping damages awarded for injuries sustained due to drunk drivers and changed the legal standard for bars and restaurants when overserving patrons.

Senate File 2169 removed language from Iowa Code that prohibited servers from providing alcohol to patrons if the server ‘knew or should have known’ the patron was drunk. Instead, effective July 1, bar and restaurant servers are now prohibited from serving someone who is only ‘visibly’ intoxicated.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Safety, since 2005, more than 1,100 Iowans have been killed in alcohol-related crashes. On average, fifty percent of people arrested for driving while intoxicated had their last drink at a bar or restaurant. Based on this data, coupled with a national inability to reduce the percentage of deaths due alcohol-related crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended a nationwide program to track and prevent overserving alcohol.

Two years ago, an Iowa coalition made 66 recommendations on preventing impaired drivers from driving, including: prevention, enforcement, education, and adjudication. ‘Place of Last Drink’ was one of these proposals.

‘Place of Last Drink’ is a pilot program that tracks information on where drunken drivers became inebriated. Data collected through the program will help law enforcement track establishments and scrutinize their practices in order to prevent over-serving alcohol to customers. Iowa is one of three states piloting the program, which is overseen by the National Liquor Law Enforcement Association. Currently 12 states have adopted the program, resulting in a reduction of overserving alcoholic beverages and arrests for drunken driving.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety is currently working with the Iowa State Patrol to gradually implement the program and plans to use the piloted database as one component to improving Iowa road safety.

First Iowan Dies from West Nile Virus in 2018

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), the greatest threat from mosquito bites is the West Nile Virus. In Iowa the first West Nile death this year was an elderly adult from Central Iowa. In 2017, there were 12 cases of West Nile virus in the state and two Iowans died.

Since 2005, Iowa has had between five and 44 reported cases of West Nile Virus each year. Mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus and other diseases are established in Iowa. To help protect yourself and your family against all mosquito bites and to prevent mosquito breeding, do the following simple actions:

• Wear DEET-containing insect repellants
• Wear long sleeves and long pants when possible when outdoors
• Avoid being outside when mosquitoes bite – dusk and dawn
• Patch up screens to protect your home from mosquitoes
• Get rid of standing water to eliminate breeding grounds

For more information about the West Nile virus, please visit

Iowa #1 in Passing the High School Equivalency Test

According to the Iowa Department of Education (DE), Iowa ranks the highest for the percent of individuals who passed the HiSET, a high school equivalency exam. Last year, 96% of Iowans seeking a high school equivalency diploma passed the exam compared to 77% nationally.

A total of 1,581 Iowans passed the HiSET, which is administered in 27 states, including Iowa, as well as several U.S. territories. It is offered both online and in written formats, has five subtests: reading, writing/essay, social studies, science, and math. A high school equivalency diploma can better open doors for employment, training, and postsecondary opportunities.

Last year, the Iowa legislature passed a bill permitting alternative pathways for students to demonstrate competency that would lead to the issuance of high school equivalency diplomas. Previously someone could only apply for HiSET at a test center, so lawmakers added the ability to apply for the test at a community college. The bill also added the ability to bundle prior high school course work with secondary or postsecondary education courses.

Supreme Court Suggests Reforms to Access to Courts

The Iowa Supreme Court has completed a two-year study on access to Iowa’s civil justice system. The civil justice system is the side of the courts that does not deal with jailing or penalizing people for breaking the law, but instead allows people to work out differences in front of the court by settling disputes related to things like car accidents, contracts, and divorces.

The biggest issues identified by the courts included limited attorneys for low and moderate income Iowans to get representation in a civil legal matter, everyday Iowans not understanding issues that could be decided by the courts, and difficulties in providing free or reduced cost legal services to Iowans that needed these services.

The Iowa State Bar Association, the state professional organization that represents lawyers across the state, estimated that more than one million Iowans have difficulty affording legal services. The Supreme Court created the Iowa Access to Justice Commission in 2016 to develop recommendations to address this need.

The report focuses on getting services to low income Iowans, especially through volunteer attorney projects where lawyers donate their time at a free or reduced rate. The report also notes the importance of recruiting lawyers to volunteer for these programs. The report notes the specific need for Iowans with disabilities, those living in rural areas, veterans, and non-native speakers.

The full report can be found at

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