March 15, 2019

    Improvements to School Infrastructure Passes House
    Working to Reduce Human Trafficking in Iowa
    GOP Lawmakers Approve Bill to Eliminate Background Checks
    Constitutional Amendment Restoring Felon Voting Rights Advances
    State Pays Out Millions in Sexual Harassment Claims
    Legislature Passes Agricultural Trespass Law
    Urban Trout Stocking Schedule

    Improvements to School Infrastructure Passes House

    The Iowa House passed a bill this week to extend funding for school infrastructure improvements for another 20 years.

    A top priority of school leaders across Iowa for several years, the plan under consideration would extend the one cent local sales tax for school infrastructure (SAVE) through 2051 instead of expiring in 2031.

    The bill will continue to provide funds for school infrastructure improvements, as well as allocating a portion of the funds for property tax relief between two different funds, one to school districts with low valuations and one for property tax relief to all school districts. A separate Career Academy competitive grant fund is established to help build job training facilities.

    More transparency is provided in the plan by allowing voters to reapprove the district’s revenue purpose statement. If SAVE funds are going to be obligated for 20 year bonds, school boards must hold a public hearing and give citizens an opportunity to petition for a direct vote of the people.

    House and Senate Democrats created the SAVE fund in 2008 and have been working for years to continue to program to ensure the safety of Iowa students by improving school infrastructures.

    The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

    Working to Reduce Human Trafficking in Iowa

    A bill passed out of the House could help reduce and better identify human trafficking in Iowa. The bill allows for better communication between many of the agencies that work to recognize victims of human trafficking. These agencies include the Department of Human Resources (DHS), law enforcement, victim services, juvenile probation, and county attorney offices.

    Currently, information regarding a possible victim can only be shared in very narrow circumstances. This bill will widen these circumstances and allow for more sharing of information between the partners, and more effective collaboration. In many circumstances, the key to helping and identifying victims of human trafficking is inter-agency cooperation. House File 642 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

    For more information regarding identifying and fighting human trafficking, please visit https://www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/for-crime-victims/fighting-human-trafficking.

    GOP Lawmakers Approve Bill to Eliminate Background Checks

    On a narrow vote, Republican lawmakers approved a bill to eliminate background checks for guns; overturn Iowa’s law for permits to carry concealed handguns; and allow guns in schools, hospitals, child care centers, and courthouses.

    During debate, many lawmakers expressed concern with the bill to amend Iowa’s constitution because it raises the legal standard for gun rights beyond the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution. Called strict scrutiny, the bill gives the highest level of judicial protection for guns. Currently, just three other states use this legal standard, including Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama.

    Democratic lawmakers offered an alternative to add the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution to the Iowa Constitution without the higher legal standard, but it was rejected.

    Lawmakers are considering the bill again this year after the Iowa Secretary of State forgot to publish the required notification last year for constitutional amendments. The error means the constitutional amendment must be approved by the next General Assembly and could not be voted on by Iowans until at least the 2022 general election.

    Constitutional Amendment Restoring Felon Voting Rights Advances

    An amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would restore voting rights to felons advanced in the House this week.

    The amendment, HJR 14, would restore the voting rights to any felon who has discharged his or her sentence. Under current state law, anyone convicted of an infamous crime, which has been interpreted to mean a felony, is not entitled to vote in the state unless the person’s rights are restored by the Governor.

    Iowa is one of only two states, along with Kentucky, that currently permanently prohibits felons from voting without a restoration of rights by the Governor. There are approximately 50,000 people in the state who are currently barred from voting because of their criminal record.

    The proposed constitutional amendment must be passed by both houses of the legislature in this General Assembly and in the next General Assembly. If the amendment passes two consecutive General Assemblies the voters of Iowa would have to approve the amendment to the Iowa Constitution during the next general election. If approved by the voters, Iowa’s Constitution would be updated to include the restoration of voting rights to felons.

    State Pays Out Millions in Sexual Harassment Claims

    For the second time in as many months, Iowa taxpayers will be paying out multimillion dollars for sexual harassment claims.

    The Iowa Appeals Board approved payment of almost $3 million to settle three sexual harassment claims this week, just a month after approving a $4.15 million settlement to victims of a long-time ally of Governor Reynolds.

    Last year, a legislative Republican employee was granted a $2.2 million jury award over wrongful termination after being fired after reporting sexual harassment claims to her superiors.

    Lawmakers have offered legislation in previous sessions to protect taxpayers from having to pay out the settlements, but Republican lawmakers have refused to take up the issue.

    Democratic lawmakers have been pushing to get information from the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) to see how many sexual harassment claim investigations are currently being invested by the state. After refusing to release the data for months, the Governor and her staff released the information showing that the state has been continually seeing a rise in sexual harassment investigations.

    Public Hearing on Mental Health, Federal Funding

    The Legislature is hosting a public hearing on Monday, March 18 on the state’s plan to use federal funds for a variety of projects, including mental health. While typically uncontroversial, the plan authored by Republican lawmakers this year takes money away from community mental health centers and puts their future in jeopardy. Instead, the money would be used in separate mental health regions. Iowans are encouraged to participate in the public hearing on Monday, March 18 at 11 am in the Supreme Court Chamber at the State Capitol. Iowans can also leave comments online here: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/committees/publicHearings?meetingID=29685&action=viewOnlineSignup.

    Legislature Passes Agricultural Trespass Law

    A bill to protect Iowa’s animal production facilities has been sent to the Governor for her approval. The legislation, Senate File 519 creates a new criminal offense of agricultural production facility trespass. Under the legislation, an individual would be guilty of agriculture trespass by using deception to gain access to an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public and with intent to cause physical or economic harm or "other injury" to a facility’s operations, property or persons.

    In 2012, legislation was passed targeting fraudulent access to agricultural production facilities. The legislation, often called “Ag-gag”, stated that individuals who lie to gain access or employment at a farm operation, with intent to take action not authorized by the owner, could be charged with a serious misdemeanor, potentially carrying a year of jail time. The ACLU challenged the law, which was found to be unconstitutional as it violated free-speech protections. Similar laws have been struck down in Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.

    Opponents of the bill cited free speech concerns, saying the bill is too similar to the law just struck down and it will have a chilling effect on undercover investigations and whistleblowers. Supporters of the bill argued that the legislation is needed for biosecurity reasons and to stop bad actors from producing misleading videos.

    Individuals who commit agricultural production facility trespass are guilty of a serious misdemeanor for the first offense and an aggravated misdemeanor for the second or subsequent offense.

    Urban Trout Stocking Schedule

    Every year, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stocks trout in several urban lakes across the state. During the months of March and April, the DNR will release 1,000 to 2,000 rainbow trout to bring fishing to the urban parts of the state. Many times, Iowans are not able to travel to lakes in northeast Iowa to fish for trout, so this program brings the trout to them.

    In order to fish for trout, a valid fishing permit and a trout fee are needed and there is a daily catch limit of five trout per licensed angler. Children under 16 do not need a license but without a trout fee the daily catch limit is one.

    Below are the dates, times, and lakes the DNR will be stocking:

    March 22nd
    10 a.m.: Discovery Park, Muscatine
    Noon: Wilson Lake, east of Donnellson

    March 30th
    11 a.m.: Ottumwa Park Pond, Ottumwa
    11 a.m.: Liberty Centre Pond, North Liberty

    April 6th
    Noon: Banner Lake South, north of Indianola
    1 p.m.: Terra Lake, Johnston

    April 13th
    10 a.m.: Heritage Pond, Dubuque
    11 a.m.: North Prairie Lake, Cedar Falls

    April 20th
    10 a.m.: Prairie Park (Cedar Bend), Cedar Rapids
    Noon: Sand Lake, Marshalltown

    For more information visit https://www.iowadnr.gov/Fishing/Trout-Fishing.