February 24, 2017

    Voucher Plan Will Divert Money from Public Schools
    Bill Eliminating Iowa Worker’s Rights Signed into Law
    Republican Budget Cuts Lead to Higher Tuition at Community Colleges
    Chief Justice Cady Warns of Dire Financial Circumstances
    Veterans Trust Fund Addressing Homelessness
    Steps Taken to Clarify Role of Motor Vehicle Enforcement Officers
    Civics Quiz Could Be Graduation Requirement
    Small Community Water Quality Help Available

    Voucher Plan Will Divert Money from Public Schools

    After already changing Iowa’s law that puts public schools first, Republican lawmakers are now considering a bill that would shift hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars from public schools to homeschools and private schools instead.

    Senate File 29 would create new Education Savings Accounts, or vouchers, funded by state tax dollars that could be used for students to go to homeschools or private schools. If fully implemented, the total cost of the Republican bill would be over $200 million annually. The bill is being supported by private and home school advocates who have already started running television ads.

    In Iowa, 92 percent of students attend public schools and current state funding for public schools is well below the national average. The state also already provides $52 million for students who attend non-public schools.

    For the facts on the Republican voucher plan, log on to http://www.parentsforgreatiowaschools.com.

    Bill Eliminating Iowa Worker’s Rights Signed into Law

    In just over a week, Republicans at the State Capitol unraveled 40 years of teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, and other working Iowans having a voice in their own workplace.

    After the bill was signed in to law on Friday, a lawsuit was filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) challenging the constitutionality of the legislation because it does not treat all public workers the same.

    Written behind closed doors without input from Iowa workers, House File 291 guts public sector collective bargaining rights and returns working Iowans to a system where the political party in power has the right to decide the fate of all public employees. Under the new law, teachers, nurses, and other working Iowans are prohibited from discussing workplace conditions and how their job is done.

    Last week, Republicans ignored the thousands of Iowans who showed up to the Capitol to make their concerns heard and refused to listen to the people who contacted them through email, phone, and in person at packed legislative forums. After it passed on Thursday, Governor Branstad signed the bill the next morning in a private ceremony closed to the public, but open to corporate-backed special interest lobbyists.

    As the bill was fast tracked by Republicans, many bargaining units across the state quickly negotiated and approved new agreements before the new law took effect. Now that the bill has been signed, any contracts that were being negotiated and not completed must start over under the new provisions of the bill.

    Republican Budget Cuts Lead to Higher Tuition at Community Colleges

    In a presentation to lawmakers this week, officials from Iowa community colleges said they will be raising tuition and fees to make up for budget cuts approved by Republican lawmakers earlier this session. Iowa already has one of the highest community college tuitions in the country.

    In addition to the budget cuts, community college officials said they are an effective piece of Iowa’s economy in the following ways:

    • Iowa’s investment in community colleges has contributed collectively $5.4 billion into the state’s economy and supported 107,170 jobs (6% of all jobs) during fiscal year 2015.
    • Community college students receive $6.50 for every dollar they invest in community college education in Iowa throughout their lifetime. They receive higher lifetime earnings and lower rates of unemployment.
    • In fiscal year 2015, 391,000 students were served by community colleges.
    • The average associate degree will allow the person to see increased earnings of $9,500 each year compared to someone with a high school diploma or equivalent. Over a lifetime, these increased earnings amount to an undiscounted value of approximately $418,000 in higher earnings.

    Chief Justice Cady Warns of Dire Financial Circumstances

    The Chief of Iowa’s Supreme Court, Justice Cady, made a personal appearance to the Justice Systems Budget Subcommittee to express concern to the House and Senate committee members of the consequences of not providing adequate funding to the courts for fiscal year 2018. This inadequate funding means that clerk offices won’t be open all day for five days a week, and that the 47 specialty courts such as Family Treatment Courts, Mental Health Courts, and Veterans Courts are in danger of closing.

    Earlier this session, the Legislature passed a deappropriations bill for fiscal year 2017, which runs from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. That bill, Senate File 130, deappropriated and transferred a total of $114 million in order to balance the fiscal year 2017 budget. The Judicial Branch’s share of that was $3 million, which will be absorbed by leaving open more than 100 court staff vacancies, 12 judicial vacancies, and the closing of all clerk of court offices on Friday, May 26.

    For fiscal year 2018, the Judicial Branch is asking the Legislature to restore the $3 million deappropriation, and for an additional $8.5 million to fully fund the operations of the court, allowing them to remain open on a full-time basis, and the operations of all current specialty courts. Judges and magistrates have only received one salary increase since 2008, so for fiscal year 2018, the Courts are asking for $2.3 million for salary increases.

    Veterans Trust Fund Addressing Homelessness

    Veteran homelessness in Iowa is now being addressed in a bill approved by the House Veterans Affairs Committee this week. The proposal expands the acceptable uses of the Veterans Trust Fund to include barriers that veterans face when trying to find housing. Specifically, the bill provides that the Fund can pay for deposits needed for renting a place to live, any application fees associated with renting, and any money needed to obtain vital documents to show landlords when applying for housing.

    The bill does not allow for the Fund to pay rent, because many veterans can get this assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

    HF 131 now goes to the full House for consideration.

    Steps Taken to Clarify Role of Motor Vehicle Enforcement Officers

    Not many Iowans know that Motor Vehicle Enforcement (MVE) officers employed by the Department of Transportation (DOT) go through all the training other officers do at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA). The officers are trained and have the proper equipment to undertake all issues that may arise with law enforcement actions.

    This week, the House Transportation Committee took steps to clarify the role of these officers. The legislation allows MVE officers to enforce all laws of the state and have the same powers as other peace officers. While the legislation gives MVE officers the ability to enforce all laws, it does require those officers to focus on certain enforcement activities that include: the safety regulations of motor carriers, the operation of motor carriers, commercial vehicles, and other activities involving motor vehicle laws.

    The bill will now head to the full House chamber for further consideration.

    Civics Quiz Could Be Graduation Requirement

    A bill that would add a graduation requirement of passing a civics quiz has cleared its first hurdle in the House, and now goes before the full Education Committee. Iowa already requires three units in social studies and at least one full semester in Government before graduating.

    Despite already strong graduation requirements and the extra cost of requiring the quiz as a mandate on Iowa schools, the bill has passed a subcommittee. This also comes at a time when the Department of Education has proposed new education standards for Social Studies. Those new standards, developed by state educators, are currently under review and did not call for an additional mandated quiz in civics.

    Under House File 220, a student would have one chance per year to pass the quiz, and the requirement would start for the Senior class of 2019. The bill is advocated for by the Joe Foss Institute. Joe Foss was a decorated marine fighter pilot during WWII, and former President of the National Rifle Association.

    Small Community Water Quality Help Available

    The Iowa Water Environment Association, or IAWEA, will sponsor a series of workshops around the state to help smaller communities deal with wastewater issues. The workshops will help communities review new and existing technologies and determine the effectiveness of these options. The committee will also support and evaluate research at the Regents institutions to develop pilot demonstration sites and study existing treatment systems.

    The workshops are directed toward city officials and operators. The topics include upcoming regulations, financial preparedness, operator licensing changes, treatment technology options, and collections systems. The workshops will run 3 hours in the evening and cost $25 each.

    The workshop dates and locations are:

      March 21 – New Hampton Fire Station, New Hampton
      March 28 – Lake City Community Hall, Lake City
      April 4 – Washington Public Library, Washington
      April 6 – Eagle Grove Memorial Hall, Eagle Grove
      April 18 – Monroe City Hall, Monroe
      April 25 – Red Oak Fire Station, Red Oak

    Additional information can be found at http://www.iawea.org/content/small-communities.