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    March 23, 2018

    Lawmakers Push for Answers on State Income Tax Refund Delays
    House Approves Mid-Year Budget Cuts
    Public Hearing Held on Unconstitutional 6-Week Abortion Ban
    Constitutional Amendment on Guns Goes to Senate
    Utility Companies Move to Scale Back Energy Efficiency, Solar
    Protections for Students that Seek Help for Alcohol Overdoses Advances


    Lawmakers Push for Answers on State Income Tax Refund Delays

    Iowa lawmakers sent a letter to the Reynolds Administration and the Department of Revenue this week to get more information for Iowans who have had their state income tax refunds delayed this year.

    After being contacted by many constituents who are frustrated by the long delay getting their state income tax refund this year, lawmakers sent a list of questions to the department asking why refunds have been delayed and to find out when Iowans can expect their refunds.

    According to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA), refunds are currently $41 million behind those of February 2017. Last year, refunds were 40% behind the previous year and many Iowans were disappointed to have their income tax refunds delayed by months without notice or warning. Last year, the Department of Revenue claimed new fraud protections were slowing refunds, but lawmakers later found out the state didn’t have the money to pay refunds.

    Iowans deserve to know why the delays have increased even more this year and how long they will have to wait to get their money back.


    House Approves Mid-Year Budget Cuts

    On a straight party line vote, the House approved over $35 million in mid-year budget cuts this week. Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, community colleges, and the Department of Human Services make up the biggest portion of the cuts with just a few months left in the state’s fiscal year.

    Those budget reductions will result in rising tuition costs for Iowa students, as well as longer waiting lists for some health care services including mental health.

    The budget cuts come after the Governor and Republican lawmakers were forced to borrow $144 million on the state’s credit card last year to keep the state budget out of deficit. The state’s budget deficit is largely the result of hundreds of millions in new corporate tax giveaways that the state couldn’t afford.

    The state budget has been out of balance since October but the Governor and Republican leaders could not agree on how to fix the state’s budget crisis.

    The bill, SF 2117 now goes back to the Senate for reconsideration.


    Public Hearing Held on Unconstitutional 6-Week Abortion Ban

    A special public hearing was held on Tuesday for a new bill authored by Republican lawmakers to ban all abortion after six weeks. Many speakers addressed the fact that the State of Iowa will have to pay huge amounts in attorney fees because the legislation as written is unconstitutional and would eventually have to go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Other Iowans were concerned the six week ban has no exceptions for cases of rape or incest and would harm the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine because students would not be able to complete their Obstetrics and Gynecology (OBG) training if the bill becomes law. Iowa already ranks next to last in the nation for OBG physicians per capita, and two-thirds of Iowa’s 99 counties currently do not have an OBG physician.

    The bill, Senate File 359, started out as a bill banning the selling of fetal tissue, something that is already banned by federal law. However, the six week ban was added during debate in the Human Resources Committee.

    The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.


    Constitutional Amendment on Guns Goes to Senate

    A proposal to amend the state constitution to include firearms rights passed the House this week. The amendment would provide the highest level of protection in Iowa court’s for the right to keep and bear arms and also say that it cannot be infringed.

    During debate, many lawmakers expressed concern with the constitutional amendment because it could overturn every law in Iowa related to firearms. Called strict scrutiny, the resolution gives the highest level of judicial protection for these firearms rights. Strict scrutiny is typically used for fundamental constitutional rights or when a governmental action applies to a suspect classification, such as race or national origin.

    If approved, Iowa would become just the fourth state to include strict scrutiny for firearms protections, joining Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama.

    The constitutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 2009, passed the House on a 54-42 vote. The resolution now goes to the Senate for debate. If approved, the resolution would have to again pass the House and Senate during the next General Assembly in 2019-2020 before it would go to a vote of the people.


    Utility Companies Move to Scale Back Energy Efficiency, Solar

    Even though Iowa is a national leader, utility companies are pushing a bill this year to roll back Iowa’s renewable energy efforts and slash energy efficiency rebates for Iowa consumers. The bill would deregulate numerous utility statutes and elevate utility companies’ demands over the needs and affordability of Iowa consumers.

    The bill, authored by utility companies, gives them a superior position over consumers by granting them wide discretion over setting utility rates and removes the Iowa Utility Board’s oversight over Iowa’s energy efficiency programs. Additionally, municipalities, corporations and cooperatives would be allowed to consider consumers’ use of renewable energy as basis for establishing discriminatory special rates or charges. As a result, Iowa utilities will have the ability to shift all risk to Iowa customers without providing Iowans any recourse.

    The bill also guts Iowa’s energy efficiency efforts by mandating new, more restrictive requirements and significantly lowering the amount of money available for homeowners to make improvements that save energy.

    Many Iowans are also concerned that the bill eliminates the Iowa Utility Board’s periodic review of coal plant investments and monitoring emission requirements. Without this oversight, utility companies could be pre-approved to invest in extending life of coal plants within ninety-days.

    Senate File 2311, which was approved by the Iowa Senate on a 27 to 23 vote, may be debated by the House as soon as next week.


    Protections for Students that Seek Help for Alcohol Overdoses Advances

    A House Committee approved a bill this week that would provide protections for students that seek help for medical emergencies involving alcohol. Someone that sought help would be immune from criminal offenses such as public intoxication, possession of alcohol under the legal age, or using a fake ID to purchase alcohol. Students from the state’s major colleges are advocating for this so called “Good Samaritan” bill.

    In order to be eligible for the protections, a person must be the first person to seek emergency assistance and remain on the scene until assistance arrives. The person must also provide his or her name and contact information to medical responders or law enforcement and cooperate with any emergency responders. If a person meets these requirements they cannot be arrested or found guilty for certain alcohol related offenses.

    Senate File 415 previously passed the Senate unanimously. The bill moved out of the House Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote and is now eligible to be debated by the full House. If the bill is passed by the full House this year it would be sent to the Governor to be signed into law.