August 14, 2019
Students Head Back to School with New Legislative Changes
Students Head Back to School with New Legislative Changes
For K-12 students, classes can begin on August 23rd. Since this falls on a Friday this year, many are starting the following week.
However, nearly all local school districts will face another year of belt tightening as Republican lawmakers approved just a minor increase in state funding this year. For the 9th time in the last decade, the funding increase is below the cost of inflation which means many school districts will reduce course offerings, put off technology or book purchases, increase class sizes, and reduce their education workforce.
Districts with highest transportation costs will receive some new assistance this year, but it is not a long-term solution. Since some rural districts have a small number of students but geographically cover hundreds of square miles, they spend a large amount of their budget on transportation costs instead of in the classroom.
Some other educational requirements passed the Legislature in previous years, but take effect this school year. This includes trainings and protocols on suicide prevention training, concussion protocols with coaching training, and school emergency operation plans to address school safety.
New legislation raises the passenger limit on school vehicles that are vans, minivans, SUVs, or station wagons from the current Iowa law of eight to the federal limit of 10. Rules would allow pickups for up to 9 passengers and able to carry less than 2,000 lbs. to be used as school buses. The operator of the pickup must meet school bus driver qualifications. This was mainly done to help 4-H programs in hauling supplies.
High School Students Encouraged to Serve as Iowa Legislative Pages
The Iowa Legislature is looking for high school students to learn more about the legislative process by applying to serve as a Legislative Page in the Iowa House of Representatives for the 2020 legislative session.
Legislative Pages provide invaluable assistance to representatives and staff by running errands, delivering messages, and distributing bills and amendments. Pages will work with staff and representatives in the Iowa State Capitol building.
The Iowa House Chief Clerk’s office will be accepting applications until Friday, October 4, 2019. Guidelines to the program include:
Resources Available for Consumer Restitution from Equifax Breach
State Attorney General Tom Miller announced that he reached a settlement, along with attorneys general from around the country, for restitution with Equifax. Equifax, the consumer credit reporting agency that is one of the three biggest credit reporting agencies, exposed customer data in 2017 that was determined to be the largest breach of consumer data ever.
The agreement will provide restitution for victims that had their data compromised as well as financial resources for the state. Equifax agreed to establish a Consumer Restitution Fund of up to $300 million for consumer reimbursement. The fund may receive an additional $125 million if the initial agreement is not enough to repay all customers. Anyone that is affected by the breach will also receive extended credit-monitoring services for up to 10 years.
The state of Iowa received an additional $1.4 million that will be used for the Consumer Education and Litigation Fund. The fund can be used to educate the public about consumer fraud. The Attorney General may also use funds in the state to pursue consumer fraud lawsuits in the state. The fund also includes money specifically targeted to protecting seniors from consumer frauds.
Equifax also agreed to help consumers “freeze” and “thaw” their credit, help consumers to dispute inaccurate information in credit reports, and maintain additional staff to help consumers that could be victims of identity theft. Equifax will improve their data security team; reduce the collection of sensitive data and use of Social Security numbers; and reorganize and improve monitoring of their network.
Consumers that believe they are eligible for resources under the settlement may apply online, by mail, or by phone. Consumers may call 1-833-759-2982 for additional information. Additional information, including regular email updates on the Equifax settlement, can be found at www.ftc.gov/Equifax.
Trump’s Trade Dispute Continues to Hurt Iowa Producers and Farmers
Iowa farmers are likely to lose billions this year as the Trump Administration’s trade war intensifies and now enters its 19th month.
In a unilateral move last week, President Trump slapped a 10% tariff on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports that were not impacted by the trade war so far. China then retaliated by stopping all agricultural imports from the United States.
As a result of the trade war, agriculture exports to China dropped by more than half from 2017 to 2018. In 2017, China imported $19.5 billion in agricultural goods, making it the second-largest buyer overall for American farmers. As the trade war escalated, agriculture exports to China dropped to $9.2 billion in 2018. Exports will drop significantly again in 2019 as China bans agricultural imports from the U.S.
The ongoing trade fight has depressed crop and livestock prices and led to uncertainty among Iowa producers, with Iowa being particularly hard hit by the continuing trade disputes. In 2017, Iowa was second nationally in soybean production and soybeans were the top US agricultural export to China. At that time, China accounted for nearly 60 percent of the global soybean trade, or about one of every three rows of U.S. soybean production.
To offset these losses, the Trump Administration has approved an additional bailout of $16 billion for producers who are unable to sell their products due to the trade war. That payout this year is on top of the $12 billion in aid to farmers last year.
The bailout funds from the Federal Government do not begin to cover losses for most producers. According to information from the Federal Reserve, farm bankruptcies are on the rise, doubling in the last year from their low in 2014.
Suicide Rates Increasing in Iowa, Nationally
A report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finds that suicide rates in Iowa and across the nation have risen by nearly 30% since 1999 and is the 10th leading cause of death nationally. The number of suicides in Iowa has increased from 449 in 2016 to 476 in 2017.
One big contributing factor in this alarming increase is mental health conditions, including those that affect children. This year, a bill that begins the process of creating a mental health system for children in Iowa has been signed into law. While the bill is a great first step in improving the system, many Iowans and lawmakers are concerned it does not include any additional investment from the state, causing a bigger strain on existing services and resources. In order to truly make meaningful and lasting changes to the system, it needs to be fully funded.
Other contributing factors to the increase in the suicide rate include relationship problems, substance abuse disorders, a decline in physical health, job troubles, financial, and legal issues.
Because of the high rate of suicide in our state, the Iowa Department of Public Health has teamed up with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center to offer a free online course to better understand the data associated with suicide, with the end goal of reducing its prevalence in the state. To take the free course, please visit https://training.sprc.org/enrol/index.php?id=35.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please visit https://www.YourLifeIowa.com for free and confidential help by online chat, text, or phone.
High-Demand Manufacturing Job Growth in Iowa
Advanced manufacturing is the largest business sector in Iowa and employs 215,000 Iowans, which is 14% of the workforce. Today, there are over 6,000 manufacturing companies in Iowa ranging including food products, agricultural products, and medical devices.
Iowa is an ideal place for manufacturing due to its centralized location with access to Interstates 35 and 80, large renewable energy industry, and low cost of land.
However, technology in manufacturing is changing quickly. Iowans need to be ready to adapt to the new technology and we need to continue to have an educated workforce that is ready for the challenge. Already, 82% of manufacturing jobs require a medium to high digital skill level.
The Iowa Innovation Council is working on an Iowa Manufacturing 4.0 plan which can be used as a corner stone for growing advance manufacturing in Iowa. In order to stay competitive, Iowa needs to invest in higher education, STEM fields, and training for workers who are already in the manufacturing field but need to advance their skills.
New Iowa Education Rules on School Buses, Seclusion Rooms Delayed
Iowa is in the process of updating its school bus rules, including safety equipment. They include requiring new buses purchased to have 3-point shoulder belts that will not only reduce whip lash in a crash but also save lives in a roll-over situation. The filed rule now clarifies that this would be for new bus purchases after October 2nd and current buses would not have to be retrofitted.
The rules will be reviewed at the September Administrative Rules Review Committee, and some Republicans on the committee indicated at the first review of the rules, that they may object to the shoulder belt requirement. This has not only been effective in saving lives, but also helps with discipline as students remain in their seat. See latest crash test video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9TJZe7Ost_A.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report on the Oakland bus crash indicated that fire suppression systems would have helped prevent the fire from getting into the passenger area of the bus. The Iowa Department of Education (DE) has allowed fire suppression systems on new buses, but they are not required by the filed rules. They did consider this in the comment period, but did not make the change.
The multiple requirements also include the following:
In another rule, the Iowa State Board of Education did not approve rules on seclusion rooms. DE had developed the rules with input from education groups after a lengthy two-year process. Education groups felt that the trigger to send a student to a seclusion room should be for any safety threat. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) thought that this would happen too often and supported the qualifying “serious” safety threat.
The ACLU, who was one of the petitioners to file for the rule changes, also supported the rule with specifications of the seclusion room size. They pointed to allegations of a student being placed in seclusion in a utility closet. Education groups felt that two years was not long enough to comply with the size specifications. They also felt that the parent notification requirements were too stringent.
After listening to public comments, the board decided not to approve the rules, but called on the department to seek more public input. The DE is planning to have regional public hearings on the matter as new rules are developed.