Iowa legislature

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The Iowa economy is still growing, but not as robustly as predicted, and tax receipts for this budget year are off to a slow start.    

That’s the conclusion of members of the Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference,  who say unless things pick up, this year’s state budget of $7.3 billion will have to be trimmed by roughly $130 million.

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says there are several drags on the economy.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A legislative committee studying Iowa’s opioid epidemic heard testimony today on a serious side effect of increased heroin use in the state.   

Addicts share needles to shoot heroin, and public health experts say that has contributed to a large increase in hepatitis C cases in Iowa. 

Sarah Ziegenhorn with the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition told lawmakers Iowa should join other states 

and approve needle exchange programs.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

More than 200 people died from opioid use last year, and in some parts of the state, by the end of this year the total number of overdoses will double. 

A statehouse committee heard two days of testimony on the growing number of deaths from prescription painkillers and heroin in Iowa.  Health care providers urged legislators to expand treatment to those addicted to opioids.

Mike Polich heads the UCS Healthcare drug treatment center in Des Moines.  

He showed lawmakers a photo of patients standing in line to get methadone, a drug that helps addicts get off heroin.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Officials with NAACP of Iowa are planning to try again next year to win protections for African-Americans who face barriers to employment after serving time in prison.    

The initiative known as Ban the Box would eliminate a common question on job applications about an applicant’s criminal history, while preserving the employer’s right to get that information later in the hiring process.  

Backers say ex-convicts who have paid their debt to society are too often turned away in the first round of screening regardless of their fitness for the job.  

Joyce Russell/IPR

A controversial settlement in a sexual harassment complaint against Republicans in the Iowa Senate was officially approved today, putting an end to a lawsuit alleging a sexually-charged atmosphere in the GOP caucus.   

The State Appeals Board agreed that Iowa taxpayers will cover the $1.75 million settlement, with the money going to former GOP staffer Kirsten Anderson and her attorneys. 

A district court had awarded Anderson $2.2 million.   

Solicitor General Jeff Thompson said continuing to fight that verdict could be costly.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A settlement has been reached in a sexual harassment lawsuit against Republicans in the Iowa Senate.  

In graphic testimony before a Polk County jury earlier this year, former Senate GOP Communications Director Kirsten Anderson described what she called a “toxic” work environment, and claimed she was fired for complaining about explicit sexual comments.

The jury sided with the plaintiff, awarding Anderson $2.2 million.    

Defendants sought a new trial. 

Now the litigation will end. 

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa State University’s enrollment has escalated since 2009, while the state’s appropriation to the school has plunged. That’s the message interim President Ben Allen presented to the Board of Regents tuition task force today in Ames.

Marcia Cirillo/flickr

A hard-fought race for a southeast Iowa legislative seat is entering its final days, and the topic of transgender bathroom rights has emerged as an issue in the race.     

Democrats and Republicans are both waging expensive races to fill the seat vacated with the death of Democrat Curt Hanson in House District 82. Some consider the race a bellwether for Democratic prospects after the Republican sweep of the state last fall.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Kim Reynolds expressed confidence Wednesday that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the Iowa Senate, where Republicans face a multimillion-dollar court judgment in a sexual harassment lawsuit.     

A district court awarded former Republican Senate staffer Kirsten Anderson $2.2 million after a trial featuring testimony describing a sexually toxic workplace. 

Senate Republicans have retained all leaders and staff while they conduct their own investigation of the court testimony.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa Senate met Friday behind closed doors to discuss a $2.2 million judgment against the Senate in a sexual harassment trial.  

A Polk County jury sided with former staffer Kirsten Anderson who said she was fired after complaining of overt sexual comments by fellow Republicans.    

So far, no one has been disciplined in the case.

Emerging from the more than two hour meeting, Republican Leader Bill Dix said the Senate will conduct its own investigation to determine if discipline is necessary.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Kim Reynolds said Tuesday she was not aware of instances of sexual harassment in the Iowa Senate during the years she served as a Republican state senator.       

A Polk County jury Tuesday awarded former Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson a more than $2 million judgment in her sexual harassment case describing vulgar, sexist language by male aides and lawmakers.

Anderson's testimony covered the years 2009 and 2010 when Reynolds represented Senate District 48.     

chuck palmer
Office of the Governor

Iowa Department of Human Services Director Charles (Chuck) Palmer announced Wednesday he will retire June 16.

His retirement comes as the House and Senate Government Oversight Committees prepare to investigate the department. DHS and its handling of child abuse complaints has been drawing increased scrutiny after two teen girls died. They were adopted out of the state foster care system and were severely malnourished.

WIKICOMMONS / Anatomy of the Human Body

A new law limits the amount of compensation an Iowa worker can receive for a shoulder injury.  Critics say the change makes workers disposable, but proponents point out that the law also provides tuition so injured employees can retrain for new careers.

 

In January, 2016, 51-year-old Bill Bennett of Pleasantville fell at work and tore the rotator cuff on his right shoulder. The injury makes his dominant right arm useless for movements as basic as pouring a cup of coffee.

John Pemble / IPR

Former Iowa lawmakers are expressing dismay at the partisanship on display at the statehouse, although they say Iowa reflects a national trend.  Former Speaker of the Iowa House, Republican Brent Siegrist says the legislature has become much more partisan than during his time there.

"There's still 150 well-meaning people up there. Even when you disagree with them, they're there to do the job that they think they're sent to do, but it is more divided and more ideologically rigid than when I was there, and I think that takes a toll."

John Pemble

Mandatory minimum sentences require felons to serve a predefined term for certain offenses, and a proposal being considered at the Iowa Statehouse would lower mandatory sentences for certain, non-violent drug crimes.

John Pemble

In all but four Iowa counties, employers must pay a minimum wage of $7.25/hour - the same as the federal minimum wage.

Recently, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello Counties struck out on their own and passed resolutions to raise their minimum wage above that level. Now, the Iowa legislature is in the process of reigning in those counties by passing a GOP-led measure that would ban individual counties from deciding their own minimum wages.

Sebastiaan ter Burg / Flickr

More than 30 states have enacted some form of a voter identification requirement in recent years, and Iowa could join that list, as a contentious voter ID bill continues to be discussed at the statehouse.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by IPR statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell to host a conversation with lawmakers working on this proposal in Des Moines. They also talk with Indiana Public Broadcasting reporter, Brandon Smith, who describes the impact that similar voter ID legislation has had in Indiana over the last decade.

Paul Weaver / Flickr

Republican lawmaker Rep. Matt Windschitl of Missouri Valley is pushing comprehensive changes to Iowa's firearms law this year. 

Specifically, House Study Bill 133 seeks to add "stand your ground" provisions, institute lifetime permits to carry, allow children under 14 years of age to use handguns under adult supervision, and preempt local ordinances that restrict firearms use or declare themselves “gun-free zones."

John Pemble / IPR

This new podcast from Iowa Public Radio highlights the activity at the Iowa Capitol during the legislative session.

Our first week begins with the opening of the 87th General Assembly, where Republicans control the Senate, House, and the governor’s office.  In the first half hour of the session, outgoing Senate President, Democrat Pam Jochum hands Republican Senator Jack Whitver the gavel. Republican priorities this year include changing collective bargaining, implementing voter ID, and defunding Planned Parenthood.  

John Pemble

In what may be his final Condition of the State address of his career, Governor Terry Branstad urged lawmakers to prioritize K-12 funding, road safety, and water-quality.

He also signaled support for changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws and called for 2017 to be a “Year of Manufacturing” in Iowa. 

John Pemble/IPR

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is signaling support for changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws, that some say would weaken them. In his Condition of the State address this morning, the governor took aim at public employee health plans.

“The cost of these benefits has grown dramatically because of our antiquated collective bargaining system that has led to over 500 healthcare plans,” says Branstad, "many of which are inefficient and way too costly for public employees and Iowa taxpayers."

John Pemble / IPR

State lawmakers opened the 2017 legislative session this morning as Republicans took control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 20 years. As lawmakers were sworn in and official business began, River to River Host Ben Kieffer and Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell sat down with legislative leaders from both parties to discuss priorities.

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa legislature starts its new session on Monday. It’s the first time Republicans have controlled both chambers and the governor’s office since 1997. IPR’s Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell lays out some of the big issues at the capitol this year.

John Pemble/IPR

With Republicans now in control of the Iowa House and Senate and the governor’s office, the so-called trifecta, enthusiasm for cutting taxes is running high.   GOP leaders in both chambers have been telling groups around the state of their hopes and dreams for tax cuts.   But so far Governor Branstad is not on board.     

Joyce Russell/IPR

Popular new network transportation services such as Uber and Lyft now face state regulations for the first time, which backers say will provide protection for drivers and passengers alike.  

Under a new law that went into effect January 1st, the companies will have new requirements for insurance, background checks, and zero tolerance for drug and alcohol use.  

SmartSign/flickr

Lifetime handicapped parking permits will soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a new state law cracking down on abuse of the permits.    

Starting January 1st, the bright blue placards for the permanently disabled will be good for only five years, after which they will need to be renewed.  

Acting Department of Transportation Director Mark Lowe says there are approximately 530,000 lifetime permits in circulation.

He says that includes some abuse.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The bipartisan women’s group grooming women for political office is adjusting its goal of having Iowa’s legislature 50 percent women three years from now.

Women will hold only about a quarter of the 150 seats when the Iowa General Assembly convenes next month.

Mary Ellen Miller, the executive director of the group calling itself 50-50 in 2020, says it now appears that goal is out of reach.

Timothy Freund/flickr

A statehouse committee today heard impassioned testimony in a dispute over a proposed new season for hunting wild turtles in Iowa.  

After action by the legislature, the DNR proposes a nearly year-long season to trap a limited number of the reptiles which conservationists say are threatened with possible extinction.  

New rules outlining the season were under discussion at the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee.

Conservationists say the proposed season is too long.

Joyce Russell/IPR

State lawmakers will have the tough job of cutting this year’s state budget when they convene in January, after new projections Monday from the Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference. 

The REC predicts that tax receipts will grow by 4.2 percent in the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

That’s $96 million less than earlier estimates.    

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says to accommodate the shortfall, the governor will be recommending how to cut this year’s budget by roughly $100 million.

Joyce Russell/IPR

The new Republican president of the Iowa Senate says his party is discussing a new statewide minimum wage law after some Iowa cities and counties acted independently to increase their minimum wage.     

The statewide wage was last raised in 2007 to $7.25 an hour when Democrats controlled the legislature and the governor’s office.     

Senate President Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) says lawmakers are hearing concerns that the wage is now different, depending on which county or city you live in.

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