March 10, 2017
Republican Voter Suppression Bill Advances
Republican Voter Suppression Bill Advances
A controversial bill that will make it harder for over 200,000 Iowans to vote is expected to pass the Iowa House this week. The legislation has been pushed by Republican lawmakers despite opposition from local election officials and voting rights advocates due to the new regulations and hurdles for voters.
Earlier this week, a public hearing was held at the State Capitol and over 215 Iowans signed up to speak against the bill, which impacts the elderly, disabled, and minorities the most. Iowa currently has some of the best election laws in the country, and does not have a voter fraud problem. Iowa constantly ranks near the top of every ranking for election integrity.
Under the plan offered by Republican lawmakers, Iowans would need a photo ID to vote with strict new requirements on the type of photo ID that can be used for identification. It also makes it more difficult to get an absentee ballot and will force many Iowans to go to their county auditor's office to ensure their vote is counted.
House Democrats offered amendments that expanded voting rights and provided options to make it easier for all Iowans to vote. Once the bill passes the House, it will go to the Senate where they are debating a similar proposal.
Mid-Year Budget Cuts Cause Waiting List at UI
In response to a $9.2 million mid-year budget cut, the University of Iowa (UI) has capped enrollment and started a waiting list for the 2017 freshman class. The budget cut at UI was approved by Republican lawmakers earlier this session as part of a larger $21 million cut to Iowa's three state universities.
However, now the UI has started to put students on an admission wait list. This is an effort to limit the incoming class to around 5,400 students. Students that apply late could still be considered, depending on the number of students that are finally accepted. Not being admitted to the university is another consequence of short-sighted Legislative budget cuts, along with higher tuition costs that students and their families will have to face.
Initially, UI announced that they would eliminate scholarships to deal with the mid-year budget cut. That included the Iowa Heritage Award, the 2 Plus 2 Transfer Scholarship, the Community College Transfer Academic Scholarship and Tuition Scholarships for Business, Engineering and Nursing. However, that decision was reversed by UI President Bruce Harreld.
Gun Legislation Moves to Senate
Republican lawmakers have proposed sweeping changes to the regulation of guns in Iowa and the bill is now headed to the Iowa Senate. The bill will make significant changes to purchasing, carrying, and using firearms, especially handguns.
Instead of annual background checks needed to purchase handguns with a permit to acquire under current law, House File 517 changes that permit to buy handguns to be valid for five years with just one background check.
The bill makes extensive changes to the justified use of reasonable force and deadly force. The bill removes the requirement under current law that someone must retreat at all, no matter where the person is at, before using deadly force. The bill also allows a person to be wrong in the estimation of the danger or force necessary as long as there was a reasonable basis for the estimation. There are several other changes and clarifications to reasonable and deadly force in the bill from current law.
Many local officials have expressed concern with the bill because it also creates a process that prevents a city council and county supervisor board from restricting weapons in local government buildings.
The bill also allows for the possession of a short-barreled shotgun or rifle. A short-barreled shotgun is a shotgun with a barrel less than 18 inches in length and a short-barreled rifle is a rifle with a barrel less than 16 inches in length. The overall length of either gun must be more than 26 inches. The federal requirements for possessing one of these weapons remain unchanged.
Other changes in the bill include making all personal information on permits to carry confidential; allowing anyone under the age of 21 to possess a pistol or revolver with supervision; preventing officials from keeping weapons off the street in a time of public emergency such as a riot; allowing for possession of short-barreled shotguns or rifles; expanding who is allowed to carry a concealed weapon on K-12 school grounds; and allowing concealed weapons in the State Capitol.
The bill will next be considered by the Senate.
Changes Likely for Worker's Injured on the Job
Republican lawmakers are working on a new bill this week to change Iowa's long-standing worker's compensation system and scale back protections for Iowa workers who are injured on the job.
For around 100 years, Iowa's workers' compensation law has been in place to balance the rights of employers and employees. As part of the balance, if an employee is injured, they cannot sue the employer, and the employer has to pay compensation benefits based upon the type of injury that occurred while on the job.
Written by corporations and special interest groups, the bill cuts off all compensation benefits at age 67 and limits how long an injured worker can receive benefits if they are over 57 years old. In addition, the bill reclassifies how a shoulder injury is compensated by moving the injury from a whole body injury to a scheduled injury. Employers would be required to take into account pre-existing conditions and past injuries in determining benefits for a new injury. Finally, the bill no longer incentivizes employers to pay compensation benefits to injured employees on time. As a result, injured workers may have to wait years after they were injured on the job to receive compensation benefits.
These changes would take effect upon the Governor's signature and apply to injuries and claims filed after the bill is signed into law. The bill goes to the Iowa Senate for consideration.
Results Show 4,000+ Rape Kits Untested
Iowa has 4,265 untested sexual assault kits according to a survey by the Iowa Crime Victim Assistance Division (CVAD). Commonly called rape kits, there are a variety of reasons provided by law enforcement agencies and hospitals as to why they have untested kits. The CVAD, which is part of the Attorney General's Office, worked with a team of multidisciplinary professionals throughout the process, and identified next steps they would like to complete in this comprehensive assessment.
Reasons for Untested Kits Varied
The survey discovered that there were a variety of reasons for those 4,265 untested kits, with some of the kits being kept past the expiration of their statute of limitation. The following were the top three identified reasons for not testing: victim does not wish to file charges (18.7%), doubt truthfulness of accusation (14.6%), and lack of cooperation by victim (12%). A link to the report can be found here, https://www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/media/cms/Final_SAKI_report_65A1DA4275733.pdf.
Last year, there was a nationwide push to find out how many rape kits were untested and the reasons why those kits are untested. The Iowa Legislature joined that push and required, through legislation, that all law enforcement agencies respond to the questionnaire/assessment that was authored by the CVAD. The CVAD received a $3 million federal grant to do this assessment, and part of that money will be spent on testing the kits.
The testing of these identified kits is an immediate next step, and the state will be contracting with a private laboratory which routinely handles forensic testing. Kits which are closest to reaching their expiration date due to the statute of limitations under Iowa law will be tested first.
Other identified steps include the implementation of evidence tracking system, design and enactment of a standardized consent to test form, and policy assessment and development related to training, education, and standardization throughout Iowa.
Urban Trout Stocking Schedule
Every year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks trout in several urban lakes across the state. During the months of March and April, the DNR will release 1,000 to 2,000 rainbow trout to bring fishing to the urban parts of the state. Many times, Iowans are not able to travel to lakes in northeast Iowa to fish for trout, so this program brings the trout to them.
In order to fish in these stocked lakes, a valid fishing permit and a trout fee are needed and there is a daily catch limit of five trout per licensed angler.
Below are the times and lakes the DNR will be stocking:
For more information regarding this program, please visit: http://www.iowadnr.gov/trout.
Derelict Building Grant Applications due Next Month
Small communities seeking help to renovate or deconstruct abandoned buildings have until April 21st to apply for funding through the Derelict Building Grant Program. The applications are open to communities of 5,000 or less for commercial and public structures.
Funding is awarded on a competitive basis. The focus of the program is on reusing and recycling materials removed in deconstruction, and the selection committee includes the Iowa DNR, Society of Solid Waste Operations, Iowa Recycling Association, Iowa Economic Development Authority, and Keep Iowa Beautiful. Financial assistance can include asbestos removal, building deconstruction and renovation, and other environmental services.
For additional information or to obtain an application to the Derelict Building Grant Program, contact Scott Flagg at 515-725-8318 or Scott.Flagg@dnr.iowa.gov.