March 9, 2018
Republican Tax Plans to be Debated
Republican Tax Plans to be Debated
The Legislature is considering several tax proposals this year. Last week, the Iowa Senate passed a $1 billion tax bill, Senate File 2383, and sent it to the House for consideration. The bill was introduced and passed the Senate in less than a week. The House held a meeting to discuss a different plan offered by the Governor.
House Democrats have developed three common sense principals that should be applied to all tax bills in the Legislature this year. The first is that the state must balance the budget. Considering the state’s current budget problems that include mid-year budget cuts, any new tax bill must not burden the state with more budget problems or debt. Republicans were forced to put $144 million on the state’s credit card last year because of budget mismanagement and the state cannot afford to borrow more money to pay for a new round of tax breaks.
Second, any tax plan must be fair and simple for all Iowans. Both of these bills favor the wealthy and special interests while providing very little actual relief for everyday Iowans. The Senate bill goes so far as to end several tax credits for regular Iowans, including the $100 tax credit for volunteer fire fighters and emergency responders.
Finally, any tax reform must provide relief to the middle class. These bills provide few incentives for working Iowans and, according to the nonpartisan fiscal analysis, the Senate proposal would actually increase taxes or provide no relief for one third of all Iowans. In addition, the hundreds of millions in lost revenue under these bills would lead to increased property taxes, higher tuitions at state universities, and reduce services that many Iowans rely on.
These tax plans will remove hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget each year. In other states, such as Kansas, this has led to cuts in services and reversing parts of the tax cuts. House Democrats have offered proposals to help reform the state’s corporate tax giveaways but none of the options have even been considered by Republicans.
Fallen Officers Children and Spouses Health Care
Many men and women across Iowa who are sworn peace officers put their lives on the line every day for the protection of the citizens of this state. They are often called into situations that put them in grave danger and some pay the ultimate sacrifice, by giving their life for their community.
There are also sacrifices that a whole family makes, by being the spouse or child of a peace officer, and when the unthinkable happens the family is thrown into a chaotic situation. Dealing with the loss of a spouse or parent is incredibly difficult, especially when that loss happens in a tragic situation. A family of a peace officer should not have to worry if they can go to the doctor or how they are going to take care of a sick child, in the time of a tragedy.
The legislature recently took a huge step in providing some relief for a spouse or child of a peace officer who is killed in the line of duty by allowing them to maintain their health coverage of the peace officer. A child is allowed to maintain their coverage until the age of 26 and the surviving spouse until they become Medicare eligible or if they remarry and remain married.
Working to Reduce Gun Violence
In the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, there has been a push by Iowans to be proactive in curbing gun violence in our state. Last week, several lawmakers tried to take action and pass a new measure to protect Iowans.
Called Extreme Risk Protective Orders, the bill would allow courts to temporarily prohibit a person from having guns if they are shown to pose a significant danger to themselves or others. A law enforcement agent or a family member can petition the court to enact this order, and if successful, the person who is subject to the order must surrender their guns to the police for up to one year and are unable to possess, buy, or sell firearms during this time. However, this order is temporary, and the person is allowed to get back their firearms after they’ve demonstrated they are no longer at risk for dangerous behavior.
Advocates of these orders point to gaps in gun laws that make it hard to keep guns out of the hands of people who are threatening harm to themselves or others. These orders can help to fill those gaps. Extreme Risk Protective Orders have also been shown to reduce suicide rates by providing an opportunity for intervention. Each year, 21,000 Americans are victims of suicide, and guns are used in over half of these suicide deaths. Since suicide can be an impulsive act, temporarily removing a firearm from a person can save their lives.
These orders can also prevent mass shootings by giving family members or law enforcement the opportunity to take action before the person can commit these acts. In a lot of mass casualty cases, the shooter displayed several warning signs and may have been stopped by one of these orders. So far in 2018, there have been 39 mass shootings (defined as four or more victims killed or injured excluding the perpetrator in one location).
Under current federal law, a person is not prohibited from purchasing a firearm unless they have been formally and involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity. However, many people who have committed these acts did not fall under either of those exceptions and are allowed to purchase guns.
House Democrats brought forward this idea for discussion on the House floor last week. However, the Majority Party declined to allow the bill to be brought up and debated. House Democrats will continue to work to finding common sense solutions to gun violence.
House Addresses Concussions in Student Sports
After a national report linking deaths of football players to head injuries, the Iowa Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Iowa Department of Education (DE) have encouraged Concussion Management Guidelines. The Iowa House considered a bill that would address concussions in student extracurricular activities and return to play protocols.
A study was published last fall in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed the detection of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, in 99% or 110 of 111 brains of former NFL brains. CTE is degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head, and the study is the largest of its kind so far.
After the report was released, DPH and DE released a statement encouraging the use of guidelines to manage concussions that can be used by health care providers, coaches, teachers and parents. The voluntary guidelines include information and resources Iowa schools can utilize when forming their multi-disciplinary concussion management teams and implementing concussion management protocols. https://www.idph.iowa.gov/brain-injuries.
House File 2442 requires the Department of Public Health, the Iowa High School Athletic Association, and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union to work together to develop training materials and courses regarding concussions and brain injuries and return to play protocols. A coach or contest official is required to complete such training at least every two years. A student removed from sports participation cannot recommence until they are evaluated by a license health care provider.
Changes to Teacher Preparation Requirements
A bill has passed the House that eliminates the requirement that teacher preparation programs administer the Praxis II test for teachers as a requirement to become a licensed teacher. It does not replace it with any other test form.
Currently in order to be a licensed Iowa teacher, one needs to pass the Praxis II test at the 25th percentile based on a three year national rolling average. There are roughly 40 known states that require the Praxis II test, and all states have some type of test for a teacher license. In many states like Iowa, if a teacher does not score well on the test or does not want to take the Praxis II, allows a teacher to take other optional tests. The bill, however, eliminates any test requirements including the alternative tests.
Iowa also licenses many professions like attorneys, electricians, massage therapists, or veterinarians. Opponents of the bill stated that if the bill becomes law, Iowa would require an exam for licensure of a veterinarian to take care of pets, but no exam needed to license a teacher to teach children.
The bill was touted by supporters to address the teacher shortage and the 10% that have not passed the praxis exam could become teachers. However, there are many reasons for a shortage in the teacher profession including the removal of teacher rights under the collective bargaining law from last year, and teacher pay. Iowa’s minimum salary for a beginning teacher remains at $33,500 from the Education Reform bill of 2013.
Greater Flexibility in School Funding
Building on a similar bill from last session, the House has passed a bill to provide greater flexibility in school funding. For example, the bill allows for salary and benefits of security personnel, psychologists, licensed independent social workers, master of social workers, and licensed mental health counselors may now be paid for with at-risk funds.
The bill also expands the ability of school districts to lease property to now include existing school property. It also creates greater flexibility for at-risk funds and allows a school to lease a building for an alternative energy project. Currently a school board has to pay out a portion of the lease agreement profit to other political subdivisions. The bill would not apply for projects designed to generate electricity for a school district, which could be for example, as a solar power project.
Budget Group Gives Presentation to House Committee
The House Appropriations Committee heard a presentation from a non-partisan think tank that advises governments to address challenges in a wide range of policy areas. The group, Pew Charitable Trust, was brought in after the Republican-led Legislature has had to make four different budget adjustments in the last year and put $144 million on the state’s credit card.
The Iowa Legislature and the Governor have known since last fall that they will have to go back and make cuts to the current state budget. Both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate have proposed budget cuts for the current year that will impact students, our courts, and our the health care services. Throughout the budget making process Republican lawmakers have consistently ignored ideas from Democratic lawmakers to fix the state’s budget mess.
The Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) will give updated budget projects for Fiscal Year 2019 on March 9th, which could impact how much the cuts will have to be for the Fiscal Year 2018 budget (the current fiscal year).
Preventative Action Taken on Chronic Wasting Disease
Deer in Clayton, Allamakee, and Wayne Counties have tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) and lawmakers are working this year to prevent the disease from spreading.
House File 2466 gives the Department of Natural Resources the authority to establish zones, create special hunting seasons, require samples from harvested animals, and other necessary actions to stop the spread of CWD. The bill, which now goes the Senate, also establishes regulations on what portions of harvested deer can be brought into the state from states with CWD.
Up until recently, CWD had only been found in deer in northeast Iowa. However, last month a deer tested positive in Wayne County. On March 15, the Department of Natural Resources is holding a public meeting in Wayne County about CWD. The DNR will talk about the disease and what can be done to slow down and stop the spread. The public is encouraged to attend.
Department of Natural Resources public meeting on chronic wasting disease:
Thursday, March 15, 2018