February 8, 2019

    Bill to Politicize Judicial Nominating Commissions Introduced
    School Aid Plan Leaves School Short Again
    Sports Betting in Iowa Proposals Introduced
    Consumer Tips to Reduce Winter Heating Costs
    Flu Rates Increasing in Iowa
    Eagle Watching in Iowa

    Bill to Politicize Judicial Nominating Commissions Introduced

    Legislative Republican Lawmakers unveiled a plan this week to inject politics into the process of selecting judges in the state. Under current law, Iowa judges are selected through a merit based system nominated by a nonpartisan commission. The Republican plan would give political parties additional influence over these commissions.

    Under current law, commissioners to the state and district judicial nominating commissions are appointed half by the Governor with Senate approval and half from within the currently active lawyers in the state. The bill under consideration would make the commissioners currently appointed by lawyers instead appointed by political leaders in the Iowa Legislature and also remove Senate approval.

    Judges in the state will still be required to be retained through regular elections. Judges must be retained under the current system in regular retention elections. In these retention elections the judges do not have an opponent, but instead receive a majority of “Yes” votes to be retained and continue serving as a judge.

    The Iowa Judicial Branch states that Iowa’s current process of selecting judges is designed to limit the influence of special interest groups and political parties. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform ranks Iowa’s judges, selected through the current merit based system, as the 9th most impartial in the country. In addition, the group ranks Iowa’s courts overall 13th best in the country. The Committee for Economic Development has guidelines for the best method of selecting judges and the procedure suggested by that nonpartisan, business-led policy organization is the process that is already used in the state.

    School Aid Plan Leaves School Short Again

    On a party line vote, the House Education Committee approved a bill to raise school funding by just 2% next year, which is lower than what Governor Kim Reynolds proposed.

    Called State Supplemental Aid (SSA), the low increase in school funding doesn’t keep up with the rate of inflation for schools. Over the last decade, only once has SSA been greater than the cost of inflation and it’s been the lowest funding for schools in Iowa history.

    House Democrats introduced an alternative plan earlier this session to boost school funding by 3%, which would cover the cost of inflation. Without at least that level, more schools will be forced to make cut backs or raise property taxes.

    Because of low funding last year, several districts had to cut course offerings, reduce staffing, and hold off on new text books or computer purchases. The Oelwein School Board had to cut $800,000 while Des Moines adjusted schedules and cut teachers to save money. The Council Bluffs Community School District had to cut eight staff positions and skip two payments to its insurance fund to save the needed $2.1 million. In Fairfield, the school board faced a $100,000 shortfall.

    The bill is expected to be debated by the full Iowa House next week.

    Sports Betting in Iowa Proposals Introduced

    Last May, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that prohibited sports betting in the states. The ruling allows states to adopt laws or policies that allow its residents to bet on sports.

    This week a House subcommittee heard four different proposals for sports betting, including one from the Iowa Casino’s, the Professional Sports leagues like the NFL, the Iowa Lottery, and the horse racing industry. Currently there are still more details that need to be worked out.

    Many of the professional sports leagues would like some type of oversight of the betting, either through an integrity fee or the requirement that official stats from their leagues be used for betting purposes. The Iowa Lottery has also put out a brief on sports betting and uses the same gaming vendor network that provides sports wagering throughout the world.

    Gaming issues rarely break down on party lines and will likely have both Republicans and Democrats voting for and against the proposals. Since the Supreme Court has made their ruling, eight states have currently legalized sports betting in their state.

    Consumer Tips to Reduce Winter Heating Costs

    Due to dangerously cold temperatures and storm systems that are producing large snow accumulations, some Iowa consumers are experiencing higher utility costs due to increase use of their heating system. As a result, the Iowa Utilities Board has offered some tips to help consumers remain safe and warm while reducing heating costs.

    Lowering the thermostat while sleeping or not being home is the most common method for utility customers to save energy and money. The Iowa Utilities Board recommends installing an automatic setback or programmable thermostat to use for maintaining comfort while reducing energy costs. For personal and property safety, thermostat temperatures must always remain at a setting that does not impact any person’s health or cause pipes to freeze.

    Additionally, Iowa consumers should be sure that vents, meters and air intakes for natural gas appliances are clear of snow and ice. This enables proper venting and furnace operation and prevents carbon monoxide accumulation.

    Other winter energy-saving options and safety tips for the home include:
    • Inspect, clean, and change furnace filters following manufacturers’ recommendations
    • Weatherize exterior doors and windows
    • Never use portable combustion generators indoors, which can be fatal due to carbon monoxide poisoning
    • Never use stoves, ovens, grills, gas or kerosene heaters indoors for space heating
    • When using a fireplace or wood-burning stove, always ensure there is adequate venting
    • Never leave candles, space heaters, or open flames from fireplaces unattended
    • Always make sure smoke alarms are connected and functioning properly

    For additional tips or assistance to save energy, Iowa consumers may visit the Iowa Utilities Board Tips to Save Energy webpage or contact the Iowa Utilities Board at (877) 565-4450.

    Flu Rates Increasing in Iowa

    Flu activity has continued to spread across Iowa and has been associated with three deaths throughout the state.

    The main flu strain this year, influenza A(H1N1), usually develops in about one to three days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include headache, fever, sore throat, cough, and body aches. However, there is still time to get a flu shot to help protect yourself against the virus.

    The flu vaccination can take up to two weeks to become effective. The Iowa Department of Public Health recommends every Iowan over six months of age should receive the flu vaccine. It is especially important for some people to be vaccinated against influenza because they are at higher risk of developing serious complications, like pneumonia, if they get sick with the flu. These groups include:

    • Pregnant women (by getting vaccinated when pregnant, the woman not only protects herself during this vulnerable time, but she will pass on protection to her newborn who is too young to receive a vaccine).
    • Children, especially those younger than 2 years of age.
    • Older adults, especially those aged 65 years and over.
    • People who have certain medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.

    For more information about Iowa influenza tracking and monitoring, visit https://idph.iowa.gov/influenza/reports.

    Eagle Watching in Iowa

    Every winter thousands of eagles migrate to Iowa from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, but they remain protected by federal legislation. In the state of Iowa, eagles are grouped with other birds meaning the maximum fine for illegally selling, taking, catching, killing, injuring, destroying, or possessing an eagle is $50. A proposed bill, HF 156, would increase the fine to $2,500. The bill is currently in the Natural Resources Committee in the House.

    In Iowa, eagles typically gather around open water with the Mississippi, Des Moines, and Missouri Rivers being particularly popular areas. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and volunteers record the number of eagles in Iowa during the first two weeks in January as part of the Bald Eagle Midwinter Survey. This year 2,845 eagles were spotted. While the number is slightly down from last year’s number, the DNR is not worried. The mild winter and volunteers not being able to access all surveying routes due to the federal government shutdown contributed to the slight downturn.

    There is an eagle’s nest south of the city of Decorah with a camera setup nearby. Tune into the eagle cam, at https://www.raptorresource.org/birdcams/decorah-eagles to watch the eagles.