January 12, 2018

    2018 Session Gets Underway
    Skilled Workforce Tops Priority List for 2018 Session
    Governor Releases Budget Plans
    Retirement Systems in Iowa Remain Strong
    Chief Justice Address Focuses on Children
    Ice Fishing Safety

    2018 Session Gets Underway

    The 2018 Legislative Session opened this week and lawmakers pledged to work together and keep focused on improving lives for Iowa families. Lawmakers said the Legislature needs to get back to the basics and create good jobs, invest in public schools, and make health care both affordable and accessible.

    Some additional issues lawmakers may be working on this year include improving Iowa’s mental health system, ending Medicaid privatization, making college education affordable, expanding job training opportunities, and improving the quality of Iowa’s water.

    2018 Legislative Survey

    In an effort to learn about what’s important to Iowans, lawmakers are still requesting Iowans participate in a brief survey. To complete the survey and share your views go to: http://interspire.iowahdc.info/surveys.php?id=57.

    Skilled Workforce Tops Priority List for 2018 Session

    In the first week of session, Governor Reynolds and Iowa lawmakers pledged to work together to grow Iowa’s skilled workforce. Iowans want to improve their skills to land a better paying job and businesses need more skilled workers to be successful.

    However, many lawmakers have raised concerns about efforts to fix Iowa’s skilled worker shortage without addressing the state’s anemic investment in public schools. School leaders have warned lawmakers the state’s investment is not keeping up with rising costs and it limits their ability to train the next generation of Iowa workers. For seven of the last eight years, the state’s new investment in public schools have been the lowest in Iowa history.

    Lawmakers also expressed concern that the Governor’s budget recommendations released this week would again raise tuition at Iowa community colleges and state universities. After millions were cut from those higher education institutions last session, the Governor has requested another $7 million cut this year.

    The Legislature will also consider recommendations from the Future Ready Iowa task force, which brought together education and business leaders last year. However, the Governor plans to invest less money in the new initiative than the cuts she outlined for higher education this year.

    The need is there to allow high school students to earn dual high school and college credit during the summer time, and for a pilot project that would allow at-risk youth in danger of not graduating explore high demand careers.

    The taskforce recommended increased student financial aid through a “Last Dollar Scholar program,” but the Governor has not funded it in her budget. In addition, Certified Nurses Assistants or CNA’s who work in direct care of the elderly, have proposed to the task force the need for Iowa to develop a database to help employ direct care workers through housing demographics or credentials of the entirety of the direct care workforce. This was not part of the Governor’s recommendations.

    Governor Releases Budget Plans

    In her first Condition of the State Address, Governor Reynolds laid out her agenda to a special joint session of the Iowa General Assembly. In addition to her budget recommendations, the Governor outlined her vision for Iowa.

    FY 2018 Budget Shortfall and Supplemental

    The Legislature faces a $35 million shortfall in the fiscal year 2018 budget, which runs from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. The Governor’s proposal to address this shortfall includes $20 million in cuts throughout state government and $10 million in Medicaid adjustments. Her proposal also assumes that Iowa will receive a gain of $11 million as a result of the federal tax law changes.

    Many lawmakers have expressed concern with the proposed cuts because it will raise tuition at community colleges and state universities and takes money out of the state’s failed Medicaid privatization system without fixing it.

    FY 2019 Budget Proposal

    Overall, the Governor’s fiscal year 2019 budget appropriates a total of $7.447 billion, which represents an increase of $196 million compared to her adjusted FY 2018 budget. Under the Governor’s budget, total revenue includes the assumption that Iowa will receive $107 million in additional revenue as a result of the federal tax law changes. This proposal would leave a total of $192 million in the ending balance.

    Last session, the Legislature approved a $111 million payment to the Cash Reserve Fund in FY 2019. Part of the Governor’s proposal is to reduce that payment to $55.5 million and pay the other $55.5 million in FY 2020.

    Now that lawmakers have received the Governor’s budget, they will begin to craft their own priorities into a state budget.

    Retirement Systems in Iowa Remain Strong

    Even before session began, lawmakers have been working to make sure Iowans have a strong retirement system. A few weeks before the legislative session began the committee tasked with monitoring the public retirement systems met to hear presentations and ask questions from the four retirement system representatives in the state. All four public retirement systems presented to the committee the most recent valuation report that provides a snapshot on the overall health of the system.

    From the presentations it is clear that Iowa continues to be a leader in the nation in retirement system management and continues to be proactive in addressing potential issues. All four retirement systems showed that they are in a strong and stable place to provide a secure retirement for working Iowans.

    Public retirement systems in Iowa ensure approximately 360,234 Iowans including police officers, teachers, firefighters, correction officers, and numerous other professions have a secure and reliable retirement system. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security Iowa pension systems have an economic impact of $2.4 billion in the state, with an added $1.3 billion value to Iowa.

    Chief Justice Address Focuses on Children

    Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered the annual State of Judiciary speech to the Legislature this week. The Chief Justice focused on the process of justice, including serving Iowa’s children, specialty courts, and assuring that all Iowan’s receive equal justice.

    The Chief Justice noted that innovative approaches to delivering justice to children in the state undertaken by the Judicial Branch in recent years have been effective. Juvenile courts and diversion programs were highlighted as programs that keep children out of the court system by using community based approaches to hold them accountable for their actions.

    Diverting children from the formal court process saved the state more than $14 million last year. Family treatment courts prevented an additional $3.5 million in costs to the state for providing services to these families. Other specialty courts, such as mental health courts, drug courts, and veterans courts, saved the state an additional $4 million.

    Chief Justice Cady stressed that to get better results from the criminal justice system that criminal penalties should never force someone to be incarcerated solely because the person cannot pay. The courts have developed a new assessment tool to determine whether someone can be safely released before trial so someone is not in jail only because they cannot make bail.

    The Chief Justice detailed challenges faced by the Judicial Branch. The Judicial Branch currently has over 100 essential positions unfilled, meaning fewer judges, case schedulers, and juvenile court officers. Chief Justice Cady noted that the court has faced delays in delivering justice because the system does not have enough people to do the work. In addition, rural Iowans are receiving fewer court services than urban Iowans. Chief Justice Cady called on increased investments in the court system, including expanding family treatment and drug courts to address problems like the growing opioid crisis.

    Ice Fishing Safety

    As the winter weather continues to warm up it is important to remember the ice on lakes fluctuates. The DNR has several safety tips to insure you have successful time ice fishing.

      • Check the DNR’s website for the weekly fishing report with ice conditions. • Four inches of ice or more is recommended for safe fishing.
      • Drill test holes near shore and periodically as you move to measure the thickness and quality of the ice.
      • Check the ice often as you make your way to your favorite fishing spot.
      • Bring along ice picks, about 50 feet of rope, a floatable seat cushion you can throw to someone in case of a rescue, and your cell phone.
      • Go with someone who has experience and equipment to use.
      • Fish early and late in the day. Fish are more active during these times.
      • Use small jigs, spoons or minnows and light line.
      • Learn to use spring bobbers (a piece of metal or wire that extends off the rod tip). Fish use less energy during the winter and are less aggressive. Spring bobbers let you set the depth of line and see when you have a bite, often before you even feel it on your line.

    For more information, safety tips, and to find a class on ice fishing visit the DNR’s at http://www.iowadnr.gov/fishing.