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Rep. Sharon Steckman: Bill “falls short” of funding needed for schools

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

House Study Bill 109 passed out of sub-committee and the Education committee on Wednesday of this week.

It provides 2.06% of Allowable Growth to public schools for the year beginning July 1, 2019. For yet again another year, it falls short of what is really needed to make sure our kids get the education they deserve and that teachers receive the support that they need. The tax break passed last year will give the top 5% in Iowa $198 million. It seems to me that we should be even more willing to give our kids as much.

Two bills are making their way through the Statehouse that seek to change the way judges are nominated in Iowa. The current system uses a non-partisan nominating commission which has been judged to be among the top methods in the country for creating merit based judicial appointments. The new plan will give political parties additional influence. My question is, “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” Please see the story below for more information.

Last week, I sat on a panel in Mason City that was focused on discussions about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). I learned that many low-income people who may qualify either are not aware of the tax credit or are misinformed about qualification parameters. On February 13th, VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) will open an office north of Hy Vee East in Mason City. I would urge you to let family and friends who might qualify know that they can take their questions about EITC to the knowledgeable volunteers at the VITA office.

Also, the Iowa hawk-I (Healthy and Well Kids in Iowa) program for children provides medical and dental coverage for kids and teens in families below certain income levels. Information may be found at dhsservices.iowa.gov, or by calling 1-855-889-7985. Again, many families who may qualify for this coverage are not aware of it, so please help me pass the word.

FORUM
Saturday, February 23
10:00 – 11:30
Mason City Public Library

“The Iowa Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO) was at the State Capitol on Monday, February 4. Pictured with me are Representatives Ras Smith, Timi Brown-Powers, Bob Kressig and Dave Williams along with members Jerry Hagenay, Chuck Kacher, Blaine Luck, Herb Copley, Tom Kinn, and Rich Kutembach.” – Rep. Steckman

MORE NEWS FROM DEMOCRATS:

News from the Statehouse

Bill to Politicize Judicial Nominating Commissions Introduced

Legislative Republican Lawmakers unveiled a plan this week to inject politics into the process of selecting judges in the state. Under current law, Iowa judges are selected through a merit based system nominated by a nonpartisan commission. The Republican plan would give political parties additional influence over these commissions.

Under current law, commissioners to the state and district judicial nominating commissions are appointed half by the Governor with Senate approval and half from within the currently active lawyers in the state. The bill under consideration would make the commissioners currently appointed by lawyers instead appointed by political leaders in the Iowa Legislature and also remove Senate approval.

Judges in the state will still be required to be retained through regular elections. Judges must be retained under the current system in regular retention elections. In these retention elections the judges do not have an opponent, but instead receive a majority of “Yes” votes to be retained and continue serving as a judge.

The Iowa Judicial Branch states that Iowa’s current process of selecting judges is designed to limit the influence of special interest groups and political parties. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform ranks Iowa’s judges, selected through the current merit based system, as the 9th most impartial in the country. In addition, the group ranks Iowa’s courts overall 13th best in the country. The Committee for Economic Development has guidelines for the best method of selecting judges and the procedure suggested by that nonpartisan, business-led policy organization is the process that is already used in the state.

School Aid Plan Leaves Schools Short Again

On a party line vote, the House Education Committee approved a bill to raise school funding by just 2% next year, which is lower than what Governor Kim Reynolds proposed.

Called State Supplemental Aid (SSA), the low increase in school funding doesn’t keep up with the rate of inflation for schools. Over the last decade, only once has SSA been greater than the cost of inflation and it’s been the lowest funding for schools in Iowa history.

House Democrats introduced an alternative plan earlier this session to boost school funding by 3%, which would cover the cost of inflation. Without at least that level, more schools will be forced to make cut backs or raise property taxes.

Because of low funding last year, several districts had to cut course offerings, reduce staffing, and hold off on new text books or computer purchases. The Oelwein School Board had to cut $800,000 while Des Moines adjusted schedules and cut teachers to save money. The Council Bluffs Community School District had to cut eight staff positions and skip two payments to its insurance fund to save the needed $2.1 million. In Fairfield, the school board faced a $100,000 shortfall.

The bill is expected to be debated by the full Iowa House next week.

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