2016 Legislative Session

Anders Adermark/flickr

A Republican-sponsored water quality bill passed by a wide margin in a House committee today in spite of reservations from Democrats.  

The bill takes existing tax revenue, and commits it to cities trying to get pollutants out of their drinking water.  

Iowans who live in cities pay a tax on metered water.  The bill would direct the tax to a special fund for water treatment upgrades.   

But Democrats say farm chemicals and other contaminants will still be in Iowa waterways.  

File Photo, House Democratic Caucus

With the privatization of Iowa’s health care program for the poor and disabled set to go into effect tomorrow, state lawmakers Wednesday grilled company representatives and Medicaid managers about the change.    

There was emotional debate in the House about a young cancer patient’s treatment being delayed.        

dagnyg / Flickr

Johnston father of three, Nathan Gibson, would like to take his daughters to fire handguns at a shooting range, but under state law they can't handle pistols until the age of fourteen.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Gibson and one of Gibson's daughters about their effort to eliminate the handgun use age limit. 

Jo Naylor

Governor Branstad had harsh words today for Iowa’s public schools who want a penny sales tax extended to benefit school infrastructure projects.

The one-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2029.   Schools use the money to back up bonding for everything from building repairs to technology upgrades.  

The governor wants to extend the tax, but he wants some of the revenue diverted to water quality.

At his weekly news conference, Branstad lashed out against schools for opposing his plan.  

Iowa Gunowners

There’s division in the ranks of gun rights groups in Iowa over pro-gun bills which have gained final passage in the Iowa legislature.

A group that calls itself Iowa’s Only No Compromise Gun Lobby is criticizing the compromise bills, and blaming the NRA and the Iowa Firearms Coalition for their role in the negotiations.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

The organization that represents some 63,000 Iowans with Alzheimer’s disease had its annual lobby day at the capitol today. 

Officials with the Alzheimer's Association say they want more accountability for health care workers providing dementia care.    

Currently, health care workers in nursing homes and other facilities must have a certain number of hours of dementia training.  

Carol Sipfle, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association Iowa Chapter, wants workers to show their competence as well.

Bryan McDonald/flickr

More than a year later than required by state law, negotiators in the Iowa House and Senate have agreed to a two-point-two-five percent increase in basic state aid for K-12 schools next year.  

Democrats say that’s the “best they can do” with a divided legislature.  The compromise is about 80 million dollars less than the 4 percent increase Democrats approved, but Republicans say schools will receive 87 percent of all new state revenue next year.   

Tom Narak with the School Administrators of Iowa calls the compromise obviously inadequate.

John Pemble / IPR

 

There are more deadlines this week that will force bills forward or fall flat. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talked with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell and has these takeaways.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A Marion woman gave tearful testimony before a statehouse committee, imploring them to protect mental health services under Medicaid privatization. 

The woman’s friend was killed this week, allegedly by her son who has been described as severely mentally ill. 

Thirty-year old Michael Dieckman was being held on two counts of murder in the deaths of his mother, 63 year old Jacqueline Dieckman and his 91 year old grandmother, whose bodies were found on Wednesday in the home they shared in Council Bluffs. 

Jason Parrott/Tri States Public Radio

Oversight committees in the Iowa House and Senate are working on bills to ensure that alleged abuse at a private boarding school in southeast Iowa never happens again.   

Midwest Academy was shut down after a raid by local, state and federal officials.     

At a statehouse hearing, lawmakers grilled representatives of two state agencies about how they might have prevented the alleged abuse.  

John Pemble/IPR

A compromise tax policy bill passed the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday and will now go to Governor Branstad for his consideration.    

The bill matches up the Iowa tax code with federal law at a cost of nearly $100 million to the state treasury.  

Backers say farmers and small businesses have enjoyed a tax break on major purchases in the past.  

They bought machinery expecting that this year, so there was an outcry when Democrats and the Governor wanted to change course.   

Michael Leland / IPR

More bills have reached deadlines for continuing in the Iowa legislature. IPR’s Morning Edition Host Clay Masters got the latest from Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell on what to expect going into the week of March 14 at the statehouse.

Joyce Russell/IPR

African-American activists cheered as Governor Branstad today signed into law one of the legislative priorities of the NAACP.    

The bill will keep court records confidential in most juvenile cases.  

The bill came out of the Governor’s Working Group on Justice Policy Reform.

Activists argue that black juvenile offenders are most affected because of their disproportionate  numbers in the courts.   

Iowa Senate Video Archive

On a mostly party-line vote, the Iowa Senate has approved a bill to add transgender individuals to those protected by Iowa’s hate crimes statute. 

The vote on Tuesday came after the killing last week of a teenager in Burlington.

Sixteen-year-old Kedarie Johnson was shot to death last Wednesday.   The student’s body was later discovered in an alley.

State Senator Matt McCoy (D-Des Moines) says Johnson was transitioning from female to male.

Todd Lappin/flickr

A shortage of mental health physicians could be alleviated under a program Governor Branstad announced today.

Iowa ranks 41st in the nation in the number of practicing psychiatrists.   So the state will spend $4 million for new psychiatric residency programs at three Des Moines medical centers, Broadlawns, UnityPoint Health, and Mercy Hospital.  

Branstad says Iowa educates a lot of doctors at U of I and at Des Moines University.

“But if they go and do their residency out of state, they tend to get job offers there and they don’t come back," Branstad said.     

John Pemble / IPR

Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters spoke with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell. Here’s what she told him:

1. Kids likely won’t be allowed to handle guns. Iowa got a lot of national attention for a bill in the Iowa House that would allow children, 14 and younger, to handle a gun under parental supervision. “I would say there’s virtually no way this would pass the senate,” IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell said. The gun bill that could pass both chambers is one to legalize gun suppressors.

jubilo haku/flickr

Iowa school districts will not be required to offer at least one high school computer science class under a bill that was scaled back in the Iowa House this week. 

The bill instead creates an advisory committee to make recommendations in time for the 2018-2019 school year. 

The committee will address whether schools should include a unit on coding for seventh and eighth graders.  

They’ll also consider whether students should be able to take a computer class to meet a school’s math requirement, and how many new teachers would be required.    

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

For the first time in Iowa history, a Republican lawmaker introduced a medical marijuana bill in the statehouse. Peter Cownie, a Republican from Des Moines, introduced House Study Bill 607, now House File 2384, which would allow for the manufacture and distribution of cannabis oil in Iowa. The bill originally had ten conditions but the version that passed the Commerce Committee included only three--epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and terminal cancer.

Geoffrey Fairchild/flickr

A gun rights bill that passed the Iowa House is running into opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate.   

Democrats want gunowners to demonstrate proficiency before acquiring or renewing a permit to carry a concealed weapon.   

By a wide margin, the House last month approved a bill that makes it easier for some gunowners to renew their permits, and protects the confidentiality of permit holders.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says for Democrats to sign on to that, they’ll insist on some basic training with a gun.

wintersoul1/flickr

Lifetime handicapped parking permits would become a thing of the past if a bill in the Iowa Senate becomes law.

Lawmakers say some drivers may be acquiring permits from other family members, and using them to take up parking spaces reserved for drivers with real disabilities. 

Statehouse lobbyist Brian Johnson has a permanent disability.  

He believes some drivers are using permits passed down to them from parents or grandparents.

Valdosta-Lowndes MPO/flickr

Vehicles overtaking bicyclists on roadways without bike lanes would have to give the cyclists plenty of room under a bill that passed the Iowa Senate today.    

Under the bill, the car or truck would have to get completely over in the adjoining lane to pass, just as they do while passing any other vehicle. 

Lawmakers told stories of fatal or near-fatal accidents on county roadways. 

Waterloo Democrat Bill Dotzler described harrowing experiences on a bicycle in rural Butler County.

John Pemble/IPR

After months of discussion, out of state for-profit companies now have the go-ahead to take over Iowa’s Medicaid program for the poor and disabled on April 1st.  

The Branstad administration Tuesday received word of approval from the federal government though the date was once again delayed.  

In December, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services delayed implementation from January 1st to March 1st, stating that key requirements on 16 action items were not met, including adequate provider networks to serve Iowa’s more than 500,000  Medicaid patients. 

John Pemble

The number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased six-fold from 2007 to 2013.

Kim Brown, of Davenport, lost her son Andy Lamp to a heroin overdose in 2011, and she now advocates for greater access to Naloxone, a common overdose reversal drug, as well as a “Good Samaritan” law, which is intended to protect those who report an overdose from arrest or prosecution. She believes that passing these laws in Iowa could prevent future deaths from heroin overdose.

USDA

A Republican lawmaker in the Iowa House who works in environmental protection in his day job has a new plan for paying for water quality, but his fellow Republicans have nixed the idea.  

Water quality is on the agenda at the statehouse this year because of a proposal from Governor Branstad to use some school funds to clean up Iowa waterways.

Representative John Wills of Spirit Lake works for the Soil and Water Conservation District in Dickinson County.  

John Clare/flickr

Conservationists in the Iowa House have advanced a bipartisan bill to limit hunting of potentially threatened Iowa wildlife.    

The bill would create a hunting season and bag limits for the commercial harvest of turtles, which has increased in Iowa as other states have cracked down.  

Ackworth Democrat Scott Ourth says there’s demand for several species of turtles in Tama, Johnson, and other counties.

Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa House have amended a bill to legalize the production and distribution of marijuana in the state. 

In its more limited form, it cleared two Republican panels and is now eligible for debate in the full House. 

To improve its chances, the revised bill covers fewer conditions with fewer places to buy the cannabis.   Altoona Republican Zach Nunn praised those who came up with the compromise.

“To able to focus it in a way that it can be meaningful and face a reality of moving it forward in both chambers,” Nunn said.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Democrats in the Iowa House today banded together to try to take down Governor Branstad’s bill to use  some future school infrastructure funds for water quality instead.  

But Republicans prevailed and the bill remains eligible for debate.  

Years ago, county by county, voters agreed to pay an extra penny of sales tax for school infrastructure.  That tax is about to expire.   Governor Branstad wants to extend it and use some of the growth for water quality.    

Riverside Democrat Sally Stutsman says taking the money away from schools reneges on a promise to voters.

John Pemble/IPR

With little debate, a committee in the Republican-controlled Iowa house today nearly unanimously approved a new tax credit for gun owners, with backers saying it will increase gun safety in the state.  

Under the bill, the tax break would be granted for the purchase of a gun safe for personal use from a qualified retailer.   

Des Moines Democrat Rick Olson says the tax credit is not justified.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill advanced at the statehouse today to regulate new app-based transportation companies.    

Companies including Uber and Lyft use mobile apps for drivers to find fares and for passengers to arrange rides.   The companies currently operate in Des Moines, Ames, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport.

Mount Auburn Republican Dawn Pettengill says the bill spells out insurance requirements for the benefit of both drivers and passengers.

“I think they will feel safer than what we have now,” Pettengill says.

iprimages

The director of an embattled state agency took questions this week from statehouse Democrats over nearly one million dollars in improper payments of unemployment benefits.     

State Auditor Mary Mosiman reports that Iowa Workforce Development sent benefits to applicants who claimed to work for companies that didn’t exist.

In addition, legitimate recipients received 700,000 dollars in overpayments.  

Waterloo Democrat Bill Dotzler says some workers came forward and reported that there had been a mistake.

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