May 4, 2012
Legislators Work Together to Narrow Differences
Legislators Work Together to Narrow Differences
The 2012 session continued for another week as legislators continue to meet to narrow their differences and reach compromise.
While legislators and the Governor have agreed to a budget of about $6.2 billion for next year, there are still some differences to iron out in how to prioritize the state budget. The proposed budget is balanced and well below the state’s balanced budget law that requires legislators spend no more than 99% of available revenues. It will also leave the state with a projected surplus of $200 million at the end of the year.
The state budget is already in solid shape as revenues continue to rise and the state is projected to end the fiscal year in June with $610 million in savings and a budget surplus of over $330 million.
Legislators are also working to find common ground on several significant policy issues this year, including education reform, commercial property tax relief, and a redesign of Iowa’s mental health system.
While the session has not ended, legislators stopped getting paid on Tuesday, April 17th which was the last scheduled day of the session.
Economic Recovery Continues
Iowa and the Midwest economy continue to improve according to the Mid-America Business Conditions Index. The index jumped to 60 in April from 58.6 in March, fueled largely by manufacturing.
Iowa’s manufacturing index has showed positive growth for 28 straight months. Under the Mid-America Business Conditions index, a score above 50 means the state is growing.
As a result of the report, the Creighton Economic Forecasting Group expects unemployment in Iowa to drop below 5 percent by the middle of 2012.
The Mid-America Business Conditions Index is produced by The Creighton Economic Forecasting Group, which has conducted the monthly survey of supply managers in nine states since 1994 to produce leading economic indicators of the Mid-America economy. States included in the survey are Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
Tax Credit for Volunteer Fire Fighters and EMTs
Volunteer fire fighters and Emergency Medical Services Personnel (EMTs) will be able to apply for a $50 Iowa income tax credit beginning January 1, 2013.
The credit is intended to compensate the personnel for their volunteer services. In addition, often volunteer fire fighters and EMT have additional training and equipment requirements, which sometimes have to be paid by the volunteers.
Volunteers that do not volunteer for a full year may receive a prorated credit. The prorated credit will be based on the number of months the volunteer was a fire fighter or EMT. If a taxpayer volunteers as both a fire fighter and EMT during the same time, the credit may only be claimed for one position per month.
Senate File 2322 was signed into law by the Governor on April 27th and applies to the 2013 and subsequent tax years.
Moneys Available to Expand Renewable Fuels Usage
Retail gas stations and wholesale distributors of fuels interested in installing new equipment to handle the distribution of higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel can apply for assistance through the state’s Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program. Applications must be received by May 18 to be considered at the June 6 meeting of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Board, which approves all applications.
The program has cost-share funds available to cover up to 70 percent of the cost of converting old equipment, such as underground tanks or retail pumps, to new equipment designed to handle higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel.
Grants to retail distributors are limited to a maximum of $50,000 per project and retailers must commit to selling renewable fuels for at least five years. Smaller grants of $30,000 are available for those only making a three year commitment.
Wholesale fuel distributors are also eligible for grants to offset the cost of new bulk storage and distribution equipment that can be used with higher blends of renewable fuels. Up to $100,000 is available, but requires a 50 percent match by the company and a five-year commitment to handling renewable fuels.
The Legislature provided $3 million to the program for fiscal 2012 and approximately $1 million remains for this final application period. Funds not awarded this year can be carried into the next fiscal year.
More information about the program, including guidelines and application forms, are available at www.IowaAgriculture.gov by clicking on the “Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Program” link under “Hot Topics.”
Partnership Formed to Provide Resources on Bullying
The Department of Education, Department of Public Safety, and the Attorney General have partnered to provide information and resources to schools and Iowans on bullying and cyber-bullying. Through the partnership, the Iowa State Patrol Education Officers are available to provide presentations to Iowa schools on the topics of bullying, cyber-bullying, internet safety, and similar topics.
Contact www.dps.state.ia.us/ISP/specialty/seos.shtml to schedule a presentation. Online resources for parents, such as teaching materials, video presentations, and safety education kits are available at www.netsmartz.org. After bullying of a high school student in western Iowa resulted in a tragic suicide last month, legislators are also considering a statewide suicide hotline to help teens who have been bullied.
Representative Chris Hall of Sioux City has also introduced a bullying bill to require school officials to work with the student and parent or guardian to find the cause for student’s harassing behavior. Similar to how parents are held responsible for their children who are chronically truant, it holds parents responsible for the actions of their children if they bully other kids. If unsuccessful, it would be referred to mediation, and there would be penalties for violating a mediation agreement.
The bill prohibits individuals enrolled in a public or nonpublic school from engaging in harassment or bullying at any time. Funds from the mediation agreement violations would be used by the school district to support programs to prevent harassment and bullying.
Online Renewal of Driver’s Licenses Becoming a Reality
Iowans will be able to renew their driver’s license online under legislation adopted this year. The concept came from the Department of Transportation to allow eligible, safe drivers, and nonoperator identification (ID) card holders to renew their driver’s license or ID online every other renewal.
Typically, you renew your license every five years. Under this legislation, eligible persons would only have to appear at a driver’s license location every 10th year.
Iowans between 18 and 65 would be eligible to renew their driver’s license online, within the 30-day period before expiration, as long as you are not changing any biographical information or have driving restrictions. In addition, your last issuance or renewal must have been in person where a vision test and updated photo was obtained. ID holders may be older than 65; ID’s issued to persons age 70 and older will not expire.
Online renewals will be conducted from the DOT’s website. The legislation granted the department emergency rulemaking authority to get started on implementing online renewals as soon at the legislation is signed into law. There would be no cost difference by renewing online; however, a small convenience charge of $1.50 may be charged to cover the cost of the electronic payment.
Currently, 29 other states allow for online renewal of driver’s licenses and ID cards.
This language is part of a larger government efficiency bill that is expected to save Iowa taxpayers over $3.5 million. Senate File 2338 has passed the House and Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Iowa Utilities Board Building Exceeds First-Year Energy Goal
In its first year of occupancy, the building that houses the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) and the Office of the Consumer Advocate (OCA) is exceeding design expectations for energy consumption and will receive the prestigious Top Ten Green Building Award from the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment. This building is located east of the Judicial Building on the State’s Capitol Complex in Des Moines and is often referred to as the IUB-OCA Building.
The IUB reports that the building produced approximately $51,000 in electricity savings, which would power about 63 Iowa homes for an entire year. The building was dedicated in April of 2011, and it is equipped with geothermal heating and cooling, solar panels on the roof, and is designed to contain and filter storm water on site thereby greatly reducing runoff. The roof-mounted solar panels were put up in July of 2011, and since that time have produced 18.5% of the energy consumed in the first year.
While the IUB-OCA building contains many more energy efficient features, it is a shining example of how building designs and technologies can easily be put together to achieve various levels of energy efficiencies.
Skin Cancer Awareness Month
As summer starts, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) reminds us of the tips to prevent skin cancer as part of Skin Cancer Awareness month. An estimated one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. There are many ways to prevent a diagnosis.
To help prevent a diagnosis, IDPH has the following recommendations:
Anyone can get skin cancer, but some things put you at higher risk. These factors include a lighter natural skin color; a personal history of skin cancer; a family history of melanoma; exposure to the sun through work and play; a history of sunburns early in life; skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun; blue or green eyes; and naturally blonde or red hair.
The rate of melanoma diagnoses in Iowa has more than tripled since 1975 and melanoma is now the second most common form of cancer for Iowans ages 15 to 29. About 82 people in Iowa die of melanoma every year. IDPH suggests that everyone examine their skin regularly for signs of melanoma. Consult a healthcare provider right away if any moles or pigmented spots show signs of the ‘ABCDEs.
A - Asymmetry - one half is unlike the other half.
For more information on Skin Cancer Awareness month, visit www.cdc.gov/Features/SkinCancer/. For information about Melanoma Monday, visit www.melanomamonday.org/. For information about skin cancer in Iowa, visit www.epa.gov/sunwise/doc/ia_facts_web.pdf.
Crime Victims Can Get Instant Notification
Iowa’s Protective Order Notification for Domestic Abuse Program (IPONDA) is now up and running. It will notify victims of abuse when their perpetrator has been served the no contact or protective order.
The IPONDA program will allow victims to sign up to receive this notification either by email or phone, where previously the victim had to call the county sheriff’s office to find out if the order had been served to the perpetrator.
The Attorney General’s Office received a federal grant from the Department of Justice to set up this program, and Iowa is one of twelve states that participate in this type of instant notification to victims.
Attorney General Tom Miller stated that “victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment, and stalking are worried about their safety while they await word the county sheriff’s office has formally served notice of a protective order.” He also noted that victims who register with IPONDA will also be notified if there are changes to the protective order or no contact order.
Persons who would like to register with IPONDA can do so by calling 1-888-724-8463, or go to http://www.registervpo.com
Proposed Changes to Deer, Waterfowl, and Furbearer Seasons
The Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comments through May 23 on changes to Iowa’s waterfowl, deer, and furbearer seasons, which were recently approved by the Natural Resources Commission.
• Waterfowl. The proposed waterfowl changes include for the first time a three-zone, two-season split, with the Missouri River zone as the new third zone. The change would also reduce the Canada goose zone boundaries and allow landowners and their families to have the opportunity to hunt their own land within the closed zone.
To read the proposals in their entirety, go to the DNR website at www.iowadnr.gov and click on “Hunting.” A public hearing to discuss the changes and accept comments will be held at 1 p.m. on May 23 on the 4th floor of the Wallace State Office Building in Des Moines. Participants will be asked to give their name and address for the record and to confine their remarks to the subject of the amendments.
Interested parties may make written suggestions or comments on the proposals on or before May 23. Written comments may be directed to Wildlife Bureau Chief, Wallace State Office Building, 502 E.9th St., Des Moines, IA 50319-0034, by email to email@example.com, or by fax at 515-281-6794. Persons wishing to convey their comments orally may contact the Wildlife Bureau by phone at 515-281-5034, or visit the fourth floor of the Wallace State Office Building during regular business hours.