February 1, 2019

    Republican Lawmakers Throw Out 29 Legally Cast Ballots
    2018 Condition of Education Report Released
    Federal Government Shutdown Over, Local Impact Still Unknown
    Six-Week Abortion Ban Declared Unconstitutional
    Court Rules Traffic Cameras Legal
    Iowa is Number One Again in High School Graduation Rates
    New Apprenticeship Funding for Iowa Organizations
    Updating Protections for Seniors and Children Discussed

    Republican Lawmakers Throw Out 29 Legally Cast Ballots

    Twenty-nine Iowans who legally and in good faith cast absentee ballots in the 2018 General Election will not have their votes counted. On a party line vote, Republican lawmakers refused to count the ballots that were mailed in on time to the local county auditor and verified by the post office with a bar code, but did not contain a postmark. The vote came on the Election Contest filed in House District 55, which was decided by just nine votes.

    On the recommendation of the Iowa Secretary of State, the local county auditor had refused to count the ballots after the November election, prompting the Election Contest. After a special Election Contest Committee was created, it met the first week of the session to hear opening arguments from each side’s representatives, but refused to hear from witnesses or listen to witness testimony even at the request of Democratic Lawmakers. The committee acted in direct violation of Iowa law which gives the person contesting the election the right to have the ballots opened and counted.

    During House debate this week, Democratic lawmakers simply asked for the law to be followed and have the ballots counted, regardless of the outcome. Republican lawmakers refused to have the legally cast ballots counted and threw out the 29 ballots.

    2018 Condition of Education Report Released

    Iowa's 2018 Condition of Education Report has been released. Among the highlights of the report include that enrollment is up in Iowa's public schools compared to last year by over 1,100 students.

    Other highlights include:

    • 73.4% is the percent of students in the class of 2018 that took chemistry, up from 71.9% the year before.
    • 47.4% is the percent of students in the class of 2018 that took a higher level mathematics class including calculus, statistics and trigonometry. This is up from 46.2% the year before.
    • $57,045 is Iowa’s average teacher salary according to the report for the 2017-18 school year. This is an increase from the year before ($55,703). Iowa’s average teacher salary ranks 22nd nationally according to the report for the 2017-18 school year.

    Over the last several years, the majority party has tried to eliminate Iowa's teacher licensure test requirements in order to relax teacher licensing standards. However, education advocates have argued that in order to attract more teachers to the profession and have them come and stay in Iowa, wages for teachers should be more competitive. A mid-ranking for teacher pay is not a strong position to demand excellence in the classroom or put us on the path to making Iowa number one in education again. Iowa's minimum starting salary for teachers by state law is $33,500.

    Last session the majority party removed the state law that set a goal of having class size for grades K-3 at 17. National studies indicate that lower class sizes have an impact on student performance in these crucial early grades. According to the Condition of Education 2018 report, the current average class size for grades K-3 is 20 to 35. To raise student performance and learn the basics, education advocates have called for lowering Iowa's class size.

    Iowa continues to have one of the highest percentages of preschool participation in the country with over 26,000 preschoolers served in the 2017-18 school year. The Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program provides an opportunity for all four-year-old children in Iowa to enter school ready to learn by expanding access to research-based preschool curricula. However, waiting lists for parents to get their child into a program continue. Other states are expanding their programs to three-year olds. Iowa should also look at expanding its hours of preschool in a school day from the current minimum 2 hours a day, or 10 hours per week.

    The Condition of Education Report, 2018 can be found at: https://educateiowa.gov/sites/files/ed/documents/2018ConditionOfEducation.pdf.

    Federal Government Shutdown Over, Local Impact Still Unknown

    After 35 days, the longest government shut down is over and most federal workers are back to work. The Congressional Budget Office is estimating the shutdown cost the United States $11 billion and $3 billion in permanent damage.

    It is unclear what the overall implications of the shutdown will be in Iowa at the moment, but we do know that some programs and citizens have been impacted.

    The following programs were hit by the shutdown and could be impacted by another Trump shutdown on February 15th, if an agreement is not reached within the next few weeks:

    • FDA not conducting routine food inspections or other compliance activities (medical products, animal drugs, most food-related activities)
    • Section 8 recipients will no longer receive their rent subsidies
    • Federal Railroad Administration no longer able to inspect railroad operations
    • Sign-up for 2019 crop year safety net programs will be delayed into the planting season
    • Farmers can’t access the Farm Storage Facility Loan Program to increase on-farm storage in a time when many elevators are full because of the trade war
    • SNAP and WIC benefits
    • Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant for preventing gun and gang violence
    • Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act
    • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau closed, no new breweries can open and no existing breweries can bring new beers to the market

    These are just a few of the programs that Iowans depend on that have been impacted due to the federal shutdown. There are many more that could have impacted Iowans in every corner of the state.

    Six-Week Abortion Ban Declared Unconstitutional

    A district judge recently ruled the six-week abortion ban passed by Republican lawmakers and signed by the Governor last year was unconstitutional.

    This ban would have been the most extreme in the nation as many women do not even know they are pregnant during the first six weeks of their pregnancy. This decision follows a previous ruling striking down the 72-hour waiting requirement, which was part of the 20-week abortion ban passed in 2017. In that decision, the Iowa Supreme Court stated that "a woman's right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.”

    If appealed, the case would go to the Iowa Supreme Court.

    This session, Republicans have introduced a Joint Resolution stating that the Iowa Constitution does not provide the right to an abortion. House Democrats will continue to fight for a women’s right to make their own healthcare decisions without government intrusion.

    Court Rules Traffic Cameras Legal

    The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that the use of traffic and speed cameras do not violate a constitutional right to due process.

    The Court initially ruled in favor of some of the claims in the class action lawsuit against the cameras on Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids. The Court reheard the case after the city argued the ruling was not based on the ordinance in effect at the time.

    In its ruling, the court stated there is no violation of due process because the case did not shock the conscience; the case involves traffic citations with small fines; and is reasonable fit between the government purpose [increasing public safety by reducing speeding] and the means chosen to advance that purpose. The court also noted that the cameras are well promoted so it should not surprise drivers or give an undue invasion of privacy.

    The court also dismissed arguments the cameras are more about generating revenue than safety, stating the plaintiffs did not successfully prove that case, but that it is possible to imagine a successful case on those grounds.

    Iowa is Number One Again in High School Graduation Rates

    The latest data released by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statisticsshow Iowa’s high school graduation rate remains the highest in the nation with 91%. While graduating from high school is important, Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise indicated it is also important for Iowans to continue their education for some type of post-secondary degree. “It’s essential that all Iowa students not only graduate from high school, but also graduate with the skills they need to succeed in college and in the workplace," he said.

    Iowa used to be the only state in the 90% range for graduation rates nationwide but this year they are joined by New Jersey (90.5%). Other states in the top five graduation rates are Tennessee (89.8%), Texas (89.7%) and Kentucky (89.7%).

    New Apprenticeship Funding for Iowa Organizations

    Iowa Workforce Development received $1 million in additional ApprenticeshipUSA State Expansion Grant money from the U.S. Department of Labor.

    Organizations in Iowa are eligible to apply for funding in three areas; Quality Pre-Apprenticeship, High School Registered Apprenticeship, and Healthcare Sector Registered Apprenticeship. Quality Pre-Apprenticeships programs can apply for a $10,000 award. High School Registered Apprenticeship programs can apply for a $15,000 award. Healthcare related apprenticeship programs can apply for a $150,000 award to grow at least 200 registered apprentices. The award is $75,000 for a healthcare program to grow at least 100 registered apprentices and $37,500 for a program to grow at least 50 registered apprentices.

    Applications are due by 2 p.m. on February 22nd. For more information on the registered apprenticeship programs see the Iowa Workforce Development website. Click here to fill out an interest form for the apprenticeship programs.

    Updating Protections for Seniors and Children Discussed

    Recommendations from a task force designed to better protect seniors and children was presented to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee this week by Professor Josephine Gittler, chair of the Iowa Supreme Court’s Guardianship and Conservatorship Reform Task Force and professor of law at the University of Iowa. Guardianships and conservatorships are set up by courts to protect people who cannot make decisions for themselves by courts.

    Guardianships are usually appointed to make decisions about the care of a person. Conservators make decisions about the property and finance of a person. Guardianships and conservatorships of adults in the state are appointed for adults that have an inability to manage their personal and financial affairs because of a lack of decision-making capacity. These protections are provided for minors when it is in the “best interests” of the minor.

    There are more than 22,000 Iowans, including both adults and minors, which are covered by guardianships and conservatorships. Unfortunately, Professor Gittler pointed out that there is very little statewide data on guardianships or conservatorships.

    The legislative recommendations from the task force included 232 recommendations to reform the Iowa guardianship and conservatorship system, including a better framework for tracking these orders. The task force recommendations stressed that guardianships and conservatorships should be used as a last resort for protecting people or at least be as restrictive as possible to an individual’s choices. In addition, the task force recommended potential guardians and conservators should be screened and provided guidance and training. Court monitoring of these situations should also be strengthened.

    The task force report can be found at: https://law.uiowa.edu/sites/law.uiowa.edu/files/wysiwyg_uploads/final_task_force_report.pdf.