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Statehouse News [10/31/07]

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Iowa House of Representatives
STATEHOUSE NEWS — October 31, 2007
[PDF Download]

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INSIDE THIS ISSUE:

  • County Grant Program for Veterans
  • Regents Universities and Credit Cards
  • Health Commission Works on Recommendations
  • Battle Flags to be Rotated at the Capitol
  • TIME 21 Committee Meets to Discuss Road Funding
  • Auditor Suggests Changes to Iowa Student Loan
  • College Aid Says PLUS Loans Underutilized
  • Executive Order Addresses Diversity in Government
  • Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council Meets
  • Criminal Code Reorganization Committee Meets
  • Committee Hears Success of Drug Courts
  • Grant Deadline for Arts and Culture Organizations
  • Interoperable Communications Board Meets

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FIRST TRIBUTE TO VETERANS CAREER FAIR

There are 500 sponsors and 70 companies that will participate at the first annual Tribute to Veterans Career Fair on November 8th. The event is organized by Iowa Workforce Development, and will go from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm at the Iowa Event Center’s Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines.

The career fair will include special provider booths for military service persons including benefits, resume reviews and interview tips. Although targeted towards veterans, any interested job seeker is welcome to attend and talk with potential employers.
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COUNTY GRANT PROGRAM FOR VETERANS

In 2006, the Legislature approved $1 million to establish a county grant program to help counties improve services to veterans. Counties were eligible for grants up to $10,000, but they had to provide dollar-for-dollar match to receive the grants.

The Legislature approved $750,000 for the County Grant Program for Veterans this year. The department does not anticipate the problems they had in the first year.
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REGENTS UNIVERSITIES AND CREDIT CARDS

The University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and their alumni associations have all made headlines in recent weeks concerning their agreements with Bank of America for university sponsored credit cards. The University of Iowa and Iowa State target their cards to students, while the University of Northern Iowa banned such practices five months ago. Between the three regent institutions, there are a total of 75,309 cardholders including 561 held by current students. The average balance on student-held cards is roughly $1,100.

Legislators have voiced their concerns with the aggressive practices of credit card companies. With the average student debt in Iowa at $23,000, students are digging a hole some may never get out of. The universities told the Oversight Committee they will target fans instead of students. The universities want to make the best interest of students their priority.

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HEALTH COMMISSION WORKS ON RECOMMENDATIONS

The Legislative Commission on Affordable Health Care Plans for Small Businesses and Families is working toward making recommendations to the Iowa Legislature. The Commission met last month in Sioux City and will meet on November 14th in Dubuque. Many of the subgroups are continuing to meet between Commission meetings to work on the recommendations that will be presented to the full Commission for final approval.

To learn more about what the Commission is discussing you may go to the Commission’s website at http://www.legis.state.ia.us/aspx/Commitees/Committee.aspx?id=208. The last meeting of the Affordable Health Care Commission will be in Des Moines on December 19th.

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BATTLE FLAGS TO BE ROTATED AT THE CAPITOL

The State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) will rotate battle flags at the State Capitol Building next week, returning the 10th Iowa Infantry Regimental Flag to storage and putting the 9th Iowa Infantry, National, on display. The event will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, November 7 in the Capitol rotunda. The public is invited.

Many of the 260 battle flags in SHSI’s collection carry bullet holes and the blood of the soldiers who fought under them. Several of the flags were in extremely poor physical condition when SHSI took possession of them. Conservators rotate the flags into exhibits as they are conserved and properly prepared for public display. The 9th Iowa Infantry National or “Elson Flag” will be on display at the Capitol Building through Dec. 30, 2007.

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TIME 21 COMMITTEE MEETS TO DISCUSS ROAD FUNDING

The TIME 21 interim committee held their first meeting on October 17 and had a full day of presentations and discussion. TIME 21 stands for Transportation Investment Moves the Economy in the Twenty-First Century. Nancy Richardson, Director of the Department of Transportation, spoke to the committee as to why Iowa needs additional revenue for road construction. She stated that there are four things happening at once to create this need: 1) Iowa has a large infrastructure to finance with a relatively small population; 2) the use of the roads has increased over the years, especially by commercial vehicles, which causes wear and tear; 3) the state and local jurisdictions are experiencing a flattening of revenues (at the state level, the average growth has been 1% since 2000); and 4) construction costs have experienced hyperinflation with a growth of 15% in one year.

Dr. Paul Hanley, an associate professor with the University of Iowa, reported that the average person pays $100 per year in state fuel taxes (which is currently $0.207 per gallon). If there was a three cent increase in the state’s fuel tax, the average person would pay $14 more per year. Dr. Hanley stated that an increase in the gas tax will impact the vehicles that we choose to drive, our mode of travel, which destinations that we choose, and the number of trips that we take.

Next Steps & Meeting

The committee decided that, at their next meeting, they will to try to identify increases in a variety of revenue sources that will total $200 million once fully implemented. This was the amount of need identified by the Department of Transportation. The committee intends to take into consideration which persons would be affected with the identified increases, and attempt to balance the needs with those that would be affected. Their next meeting is scheduled on November 19.

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AUDITOR SUGGESTS CHANGES TO IOWA STUDENT LOAN

The Government Oversight Committee held hearings on student debt October 29th and 30th. During this meeting, the State Auditor, David Vault, presented his findings on the Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Corporation (ISL). Deputy Auditor Warren Jenkins presented a general overview of their findings. They did not find any fraud, at this point, but did suggest changes to the board structure and open meetings/records procedures.

Iowa Student Loan presented later in the day, and publicly stated they would take the auditor’s recommendations very seriously. They did agree to turn over their financial documents, meeting records, and change board structure.

Government Oversight will meet again in December to discuss the new documents and listen to further discussions on student debt.

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COLLEGE AID SAYS PLUS LAONS UNDERUTILIZED

As part of the discussions during the October Government Oversight meeting on student debt, the Iowa College Student Aid Commission (ICSAC) stated that Parent PLUS loans are underutilized in Iowa. Parent PLUS loans are an opportunity for parents to take out a loan for their child that is attending college if they have not saved or set up other financing options. The loan is a federally backed loan available to a parent of a dependent child and will become due 60 days after disbursement of the loan.

The loan is another option to finance college in addition to federal Stafford, Perkins, or private loans. The PLUS loan has a federal interest rate cap, just as the other federally backed loans do, versus a private loan having a variable rate subject to the lender.

For more information on college funding, visit the Iowa College Student Aid Commission’s website at: www.iowacollegeaid.gov.

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EXECUTTIVE ORDER ADDRESSES DIVERSITY IN GOVERNMENT

In an effort to address concerns related to minority hiring in state government, Governor Chet Culver issued Executive Order #4. Upon issuing the order, Governor Culver stated, “It is no secret there have been some challenges over the past several years related to minority hiring and promoting. We have spent time identifying the problems and now it is time for action. For this reason, I have issued an Executive Order to address this important issue, and I expect all agency directors to follow it – no exceptions.”

The Executive Order creates a Diversity Council. The council is made up of members of the executive branch, collective bargaining units representing state employees, the private sector and nonprofit organizations. The council is charged with reviewing the state’s policies, procedures and practices related to the hiring of a diverse workforce. The council will make recommendations to insure the policies and procedures are implemented and followed throughout state government.

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Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council Meets

The Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council met for the first time this month. The council is to provide recommendations to the Governor and Iowa Legislature for reducing statewide greenhouse gases, while considering the cost-effectiveness of different scenarios.

Five subcommittees were formed and will focus on:

• energy efficiency and conservation

• clean and renewable energy

• transportation and land use efficiency

• agriculture and forestry

• cross-cutting issues, such as education

In addition, each subcommittee will seek further participation from technical experts. The subcommittees will meet twice between each monthly council meeting. The council and subcommittee meetings are open to the public. The next council meeting is planned for December 12th in Davenport. The council plans to meet in various locations around the state in order to be accessible to Iowans. For more information, visit the Climate Change Advisory Council website: www.iowadnr.gov/iccac/index.html

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CRIMINAL CODE REORGANIZATION COMMITTEE MEETS

The Legislative Criminal Code Reorganization Study Committee met on Tuesday, October 30th. The committee was provided information about the current corrections system, drug courts, and from the Iowa Code Editor. After presentations, the committee decided to create several subcommittees to further develop specific issues to be addressed by this committee. The committee’s work is at least a two-year process.

The subcommittees are as follow:

• Foundational. This subcommittee would work on criminal code definitional issues, liabilities, defenses, and excuses.

• Logistics of Moving Code Sections. This subcommittee will look into the affects of physically moving certain carved out sections of the current Code into the Criminal Code chapters of the Code. What repercussions may occur? Any unintended consequences? This subcommittee will work with the Iowa Code Editor.

• Sentencing Classifications. This subcommittee will look into where in the Code the sentences should be placed. If they are all placed within the Criminal Code Chapters, how will they be referenced in other sections of the Code?

• Specific Offenses and Crimes. This subcommittee would look into making any changes to current sentences and penalties.

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COMMITTEE HEARS SUCCESS OF DRUG COURTS

The Legislature’s Criminal Code Reorganization Committee heard from three judges who take part in drug courts in their judicial districts: Judge Pille from the 5th District (Polk County), Judge Hoover-Grinde from the 6th District (Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn, and Tama Counties), and Judge Meadows from the 8th District (Appanoose, Davis, Des Moines, Henry, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa, Mahaska, Monroe, Poweshiek, Van Buren, Wapello, and Washington Counties).

Persons referred to drug courts have often been to prison before, and the judges stated that they try to find persons who are drug addicts, not criminals. They try to answer the question, is this person a criminal who does drugs, or a drug addict who turns to crime to feed their addiction?

There are statistics that show the benefits of drug courts, including economical benefits and recidivism rates. The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) reports that the average direct cost (no administrative costs) for a client in a drug court for a period of 662 days, followed by one year of probation, is $10,400. The average cost for a person entering the prison system for 20 months, followed by one year of probation, is $31,600. The cost for the person in the prison system does include direct and indirect costs.

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GRANT DEADLINE FOR ARTS AND CULTURE ORGANIZATIONS

The deadline for non-profit arts, history and cultural organizations to submit applications for the Department of Cultural Affairs’ (DCA) new Small Operating Support (SOS) grants is Nov. 30, 2007. SOS grants are targeted to arts, history and cultural organizations with annual budgets of less than $150,000. Applicants may request up to five percent of their annual budget, or a maximum of $5,000. This round of SOS grants funding must be used from January 1 through June 30, 2008.

SOS applications must be in DCA office by 4:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 30, 2007. DCA is at 600 E. Locust Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Applicants will receive notification of award decisions within 45 days of the application deadline.

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INTEROPERABLE COMMUNICATIONS BOARD MEETS

The Legislature created a 15-member Statewide Interoperable Communications System Board this past session in House File 353. The board held their first meeting on Monday, October 29th. The board is made up of local sheriff’s and police offices, fire departments, emergency communications center managers, and representatives of six state agencies. The legislation defines “interoperability” as the ability of public safety and public services personnel to communicate and to share data on an immediate basis, on demand, when needed, and when authorized.

Board member John Benson, from Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HLSEM), briefed the board about the $10.9 million grant Iowa is eligible to receive to assist public safety agencies with interoperable communications systems. The State submitted our application on August 20th. Mr. Benson provided the board with the current draft statewide plan. The Board will meet again on November 19 and 20 to further define this plan and start work on the Strategic Technology Reserve.

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