The following is a legislative update from Iowa Democrats released in recent days:
Schools Get Record Low Funding, Again
This week, there was bi-partisan opposition to the PreK-12 school aid bill that passed the House at 2.06%, which was even lower than what Governor Kim Reynolds proposed. Democratic lawmakers introduced an alternative plan to boost school funding by 3%, which would cover the cost of inflation and fit into the state budget, but that was rejected.
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.
With this inadequate funding amount, more schools will be forced to make cuts or even raise property taxes. In fact, the recent tax breaks to the wealthiest Iowans passed last year, will total more than the increase provided to schools. Also, there have been 118 school building closures since 2011, and lack of funding will increase the likelihood of more school closures.
Some Legislators advocated a recent Department of Education report that cited Iowa’s class size has a 13.5 student/teacher ratio, but that includes all school staff, many that are not in the classroom. The reality is that teachers will be forced to do more with less and the plan will not reduce class sizes. When the state short changes Iowa schools, many districts have to raise property taxes to make up the difference.
The bill was approved by the Senate and now goes to the Governor for approval. The Governor has indicated that she is expected to sign the bill.
STEM Day at the Statehouse; Education Assistance Provided to Schools
Advocates for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education were at the Capitol this week to demonstrate their positive results. In addition, the STEM Advisory Council has awarded seed funding through the Iowa STEM Innovation Fund to four exemplary programs to scale their STEM efforts across the state.
The STEM Innovation Fund supports statewide STEM programming to develop programs to engage youth in STEM activities and careers. Some of the programs need access to additional resources in order to expand local programs.
After completing the review process, four awardees were selected by the STEM council out of a pool of 20 applicants based on their innovation, scope of work, evaluation metrics, community collaborations, and financial sustainability. The 2019 Innovation Fund awardees are:
• Iowa Conservation Education Coalition
• Iowa Tech Chicks
• St. Theresa Catholic School
• University of Iowa Department of Computer Science
For more information about the STEM Innovation Fund, visit www.IowaSTEM.gov/innovation-fund.
Injured Veterans Grant Program Expanded
A grant program designed to help family members travel to be with their injured solider has been expanded. In a bill that recently passed the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the Injured Veterans Grant Program will now include those soldiers who were injured in the line of duty in contingency zones. Currently, these grants are only given to the family of those who were injured in combat zones.
This program will give families $2500 to travel to the hospital where their soldier is being treated and provides $2500 for every 30 days the soldier is hospitalized. Each family can receive up to $10,000.
For more information regarding this program, please visit https://va.iowa.gov/benefits/injuredveterans. HF 288 now goes to the full House for consideration.
House Passes School Transportation Funding
Schools across Iowa are dealing with the rising costs of getting their students to school. Dollars spend on transportation costs reduce funding available for the classroom. To address the rising costs, the Legislature passed $19 million this week to help schools address rising transportation costs, which is slated to help 185 school districts in Iowa.
The funding comes from the Transportation Equity Fund (TEF). The TEF was created in Fiscal Year 2018 under the Department of Management (DOM) to provide additional funding for transportation costs to school districts that exceed the statewide average. The DOM is required to establish a statewide adjusted transportation cost per student based upon amounts available in the TEF for providing aid to school districts with the highest transportation costs.
The legislature also addressed the need for consistent funding for the TEF in FY 2021 and beyond by creating a formula that will be able to provide schools with funding every year, instead of relying on one time money for the Legislature.
Iowa House Bolsters its Ethics Rules to Prevent Harassment
The Iowa House updated rules and employment practices this year to ensure there is a safe work environment as well as means to allow for reporting of conduct that could result in a hostile work environment. The new ethics rule, which go beyond the sexual harassment prohibition that has been in the rules for several years, includes a prohibition on all forms of harassment and retaliation.
Under the new rule, harassment is a form of discrimination based on any protected basis, including race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, age, marital status, veteran status, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other characteristic protected by law, including the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Chapter 216 of the Iowa Code. Harassment of an individual based on any protected basis is unlawful if submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is made the basis for an employment decision affecting the individual or it such conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.
Under the new rule, members and employees of the Iowa House of Representatives shall not engage in conduct which constitutes unlawful harassment or discrimination based on any protected basis, or retaliation for reporting harassment or discrimination, threatening to report harassment or discrimination, or participating in a harassment or discrimination, or participating in a harassment or discrimination investigation.
The Iowa House Ethics Committee has the responsibility to review and investigate any complaints made to the committee related to these new harassment conduct provisions as well as any other code of ethics alleged violations.
Department of Natural Resources Public Meetings
The end of February and the beginning of March the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will be hosting town hall meetings across the state. DNR staff will give updates on recently completed hunting seasons, possible changes to hunting rules and regulations, and other topics important to attendees. Everyone is invited to attend and bring along topics important to them with regards to Iowa’s natural resources.
Below are the meeting dates, times, and places:
Burlington: Feb. 20, 7 p.m., Starr’s Cave Nature Center, 11627 Starr’s Cave Road
Dubuque: Feb. 20, 7 p.m., Swiss Valley Nature Center
Ventura: Feb. 20, 7 p.m., Clear Lake Wildlife Unit headquarters, 15326 Balsam Ave.
Bloomfield: Feb. 21, 7 p.m., Pioneer Ridge Nature Center, 1339 Hwy. 63
Chariton: Feb. 21, 7 p.m., Pin Oak Lodge, 45996 Hwy. 14
Creston: Feb. 21, 7 p.m., Multi-Purpose Room adjacent to the YMCA, Southwestern Community College
Algona: Feb. 25, 7 p.m., Waters Edge Nature Center, 1010 250th Street
Waverly: Feb. 25, 7 p.m., Waverly Public Library, 1500 W Bremer Avenue
Sac City: Feb. 26, 7 p.m., Sac County Conservation Center at Hagge Park, 2970 280th Street
Council Bluffs: Feb. 26, 7 p.m., Fish and Game Club, 531 Commanche Street
Okoboji: Feb. 26, 6:30 p.m., Dickinson County Nature Center, 22785 Nature Center Road
Des Moines: Feb. 26, 7 p.m., Des Moines Izaak Walton League, 4343 George Flagg Pkwy
Jefferson: Feb. 27, 7 p.m., The Jefferson Depot, 509 East Lincoln Way
Iowa City: Feb. 27, 7 p.m., ISU Extension Office, 3109 Old Hwy. 218 South
DeWitt: Feb. 28, 7 p.m., DeWitt Community Center, 512 10th Street
Salix: Feb. 28, 7 p.m., Lakeport Gun Club, 3089 Calhoun Avenue
Toledo: March 7, 7 p.m., Tama County Nature Center, Otter Creek Lake Park, 2283 Park Road
Decorah: March 7, 7 p.m., Decorah City Hall, 400 Clairborne Drive
Master Matrix Process Adopted by 89 Counties
Eighty-nine of Iowa’s 99 counties will use the Master Matrix process to review confined animal feeding operation permit applications. The Master Matrix allows counties to have additional input into site selection, structures, and facilities for confined animal feeding operations in that county. The Master Matrix is a scoring system that requires proposed animal feeding operations to score a minimum number of points regarding site location and practices before the facility will be approved.
Counties that opt into the Master Matrix annually score each application for an animal feeding operation in the county using the Master Matrix scoring. Master Matrix county officials can also join the DNR in site visits to proposed confinements. Counties that adopt the Master Matrix may also appeal a preliminary permit to the state Environmental Protection Committee. The annual deadline for enrolling in the Master Matrix program is January 31st.
The Master Matrix process generally must be completed by any animal feeding operation with at least 2,500 finishing hogs, 1,000 beef cattle, or 715 mature dairy cows. Producers must achieve at least 50% of the total points available on the master matrix. In addition, producers must score at least 25% of the available points in each subcategory of air, water, and community impacts.
More information on the Master Matrix, including a map of participating counties, can be found at www.iowadnr.gov/afo.
Partisanship Puts the Protection of Iowans in Jeopardy
Currently, the Attorney General’s office represents more than 200 state agencies, boards and commissions; prosecutes crime; provides civil justice for defrauded Iowans’ and assists Iowan victims of violent crime.
According to Attorney General Tom Miller, there have been 968 cases filed with his office from 2013 to 2018, across 96 Iowa counties. Though most routine criminal cases are handled by local county attorneys, complex criminal cases are referred to the Department’s area prosecutors. Last year, the Attorney General’s office tried 32 cases to verdict in 27 counties; opened 106 new cases; charged 28 defendants with murder; charged 23 defendants with an element of sexual abuse; and had cases pending in 67 counties.
The Department’s Criminal Appeals Division represents the State in cases filed by offenders convicted in all 99 counties. As well as the Department’s Crime Victim Assistance Division (CVA) has served 175% more victims since 2013.
Overall, despite the state’s significant increase in crime, Republican lawmakers have cut the Iowa Attorney General’s budget by 37% from nearly $10 million to almost $6 million. To overcome Republican efforts, the Department has internally transferred funds to pay for criminal prosecutions, handle appeals, and defend the state in litigation. The Attorney General’s office has also used consumer judgments and settlements, not tax payer dollars, to fund the Consumer Protection Division. Additionally, nearly 10,000 Iowans have volunteered 275,138 hours to victims’ services, which is equivalent to 132 full-time staff.
In light of the Governor’s status quo recommendation, the Attorney General’s office is requesting a status quo budget for FY19 and FY20. However, the Department remains concerned that using restricted funds to pay for core functions is unsustainable and an irregular budget practice. Each year, the consumer fund pays $2 million for Iowa consumer protection efforts; if an additional $1.5 million is reduced because of Republican partisanship, the Department will be unable to adequately protect and deliver justice to Iowans.