Iowa legislature

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.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A top Republican in the Iowa legislature is calling for a comprehensive review of state tax policy, including cutting taxes, now that his party is in full control at the statehouse.   

House GOP leader Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights)  answered questions at a meeting of the Iowa Taxpayers Association today.  

“I think we need a completely fresh look at tax policy in this state top to bottom and we're going to go through that,”  Hagenow said.  “Fundamentally, it’s 'are we going to find a way to reduce the tax burden  of Iowa taxpayers?'”  

Marco Antonio Coloma/flickr

A tax break Iowans enjoy on digitally-delivered goods is under consideration at the statehouse.

Officials with the Iowa Department of Revenue today briefed a panel of state lawmakers who are charged with reviewing the tax credits that cost the state treasury hundreds of millions of dollars a year.    

DOR economist Amy Harris said Iowans currently do not pay sales tax when they download e-books, movies, or software from the internet.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

A workgroup studying how to protect drug-endangered children is considering changes in state law to address caregivers involved with illegal and legal drugs.   

The current law was designed to protect kids in homes where methamphetamines were being used, sold, or manufactured.           

Under a proposed bill, a wider variety of controlled substances could lead to a child abuse assessment.     

Janee Harvey with the DHS Child Welfare Bureau says currently cocaine, heroin, or opioids are treated differently from meth.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A three-year-old state law to crack down on theft of public funds from Iowa’s smallest cities has not cut down on fraud.   

Six-hundred small towns are now getting surprise visits from the state auditor’s office.     

The law mandates an audit at least every eight years.   

State Auditor Mary Mosiman says so far city employees are stealing public funds at about the same rate.

“I have to say we haven’t seen any reduction,” Mosiman said.   “When people want to commit fraud they figure out a way to try to do it until it's brought to the attention.”

House GOP caucus

Republicans in the Iowa House have voted to re-install the leaders who oversaw last week’s GOP success at the ballot box.

Republicans now enjoy at a 59 seat majority in the House after defeating two Democratic incumbents last week.

Meeting in private on Wednesday, they re-elected Rep. Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake as Speaker of the House and Rep. Chris Hagenow of Windsor Heights as majority leader.   He will direct the House debate calendar.

House Republicans will meet next month to discuss specifics on the agenda.

John Pemble/IPR

The Republican party did well in statehouse races across the country Tuesday, and the Iowa GOP did its part for the victory.   

Republicans took control of the Iowa Senate, continuing a nationwide trend over the past several years.   

Daniel Diorio with the National Conference of State Legislatures says Republicans now control two-thirds of all House and Senate chambers nationwide. 

“Republicans are at their all-time high for state chamber control,” Diorio said.   “So they have really dominated ever since 2010 state legislatures across the country.”

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Republican Party is celebrating a victory in the Iowa Senate.  

After Tuesday’s voting,   Republicans picked up six seats to win a new 29 to 19 majority, the first time the GOP has controlled both Houses of the legislature since the 2002 election.  

It’s the first time since the 1996 election that Republicans held the trifecta:  the governor’s office and both the House and Senate.      

Senate minority leader Bill Dix, soon to be majority leader, addressed a cheering crowd at the GOP watch party in Des Moines.

Sign on the side of County Road E41 in Story County, Iowa.
Flickr / Carl Wycoff

Iowa is generally considered a swing state, but polling indicates that Iowans will likely be reelecting U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and deliver the state’s six electoral votes to presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Jeff Kaufmann, Chair of the Iowa Republican Party, adds it’s also possible the state’s two most moderate districts will reelect their freshman Republican congressman, and the state Senate could very well flip to a GOP majority. Since it's unlikely Republicans will lose control of the House, the Iowa General Assembly and the governorship may soon be controlled by the GOP. 

John Pemble/IPR

Democrats in the Iowa Senate who stood in the way of gun rights bills are now facing opposition for re-election in several districts around the state.  

The Iowa Firearms Coalition is working to defeat the incumbents, in hopes of achieving a Republican majority in the Senate.

Last year the Republican-controlled House approved bills to protect the confidentiality of gun permit holders, and to eliminate age restrictions for children handling guns with adult supervision.    In 2015 a wide-ranging gun bill would have eliminated background checks for private handgun sales.

WonderWhy/flickr

Governor Branstad says a higher minimum wage in some parts of the state but not others is causing problems for businesses and local governments.   

He says he’ll work with the legislature to try to agree on a higher statewide minimum wage.

Linn, Polk, Wapello, and Johnson Counties have approved a higher countywide minimum wage.    But not all towns in those counties have gone along.  

Also, the governor says, some cities straddle county lines.  

Amy May / Iowa Public Radio

Hillary Clinton took four of five states that held primaries last night in the Northeast, bringing her closer to having a lock on the democratic nomination for president. Kedron Bardwell, Associate Professor of Political Science at Simpson College says he thinks challenger Bernie Sanders' supporters will support Clinton in the general election. 

"The Sanders supporters for the most part will stick with Hillary," he says. "The issues that Sanders cares about - it's not as if the Democratic Party has changed their positions that these issues are important."

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.

Kari Nousiainen / Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode

On Sunday morning, August 16th, three days after his 41st birthday, Wade Franck was hit by a drunk driver while riding in the Urban Assault Ride in Des Moines. His girlfriend, Jess Rundlett was behind him as the car approached, going very fast.

"It nearly hit me. I remember feeling the mirror whiz by my elbow, and by the time I thought to yell to Wade a warning, he had already been hit and was flying through the air," Rundlett says. "He was hit so hard that his shoes were knocked off and he flew about 30 feet."

Wade Franck died two days later.

Jamelah E. / Flickr

The Iowa legislature has considered legalizing commercial fireworks for years, though the proposal has never made it to the governor’s desk. This year, the debate is revived. 

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer hosts a discussion on Iowa's fireworks laws, along with Iowa Public Radio correspondent Joyce Russell. They also discuss a new proposal to allow teenagers to vote in a primary if they will be 18-years-old by Election Day. University of Northern Iowa political analyst Chris Larimer says this bill could increase the youth vote in Iowa.

John Pemble

Since 1969, Iowa’s governors have averaged a decade in office each, significantly longer than governors of other states.

"Iowans, for a number of reasons, seem to like their governors as long as they are doing certain things," says Chris Larimer of the political science department at the University of Northern Iowa. “Accessibility and visibility – there is an expectation among Iowans that you need to be out there on a regular basis.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

A years-long battle between Iowa’s community banks and its credit unions flared up at the capitol today, where a legislative committee is conducting a routine review of tax credits.  

The financial institutions are taxed differently, and banks argue it’s an unlevel playing field.  

Kevin VanderLee with the Iowa Bankers Association describes a new community bank that was started in Johnston.

“There were individuals who made their investment to start a bank,” VanderLee says.

Marie/flickr

Holding kids back if they don’t read at grade level by the end of third grade was on the agenda at the statehouse Tuesday. 

Education officials are writing the rules for a 2012 law that gives parents of struggling students a choice:  send them to summer school, or they won’t be promoted to fourth grade.  

Speaking before the Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee, Department of Education spokesman Phil Wise recalls the education reform bill the legislature passed in 2012.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A statehouse committee spent the day Tuesday hearing about what’s being called a massive change in how health care in Iowa is delivered to the poor and disabled. 

Private companies are scheduled to take over management of the state-federal health care program known as Medicaid which serves more than 560-thousand Iowans.  

Critics worry about the effect on the state’s most vulnerable populations.  

Photo by John Pemble

The Iowa Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a complainant in a sexual harassment case.  

The case alleges violations of Iowa’s Civil Rights statute by Iowa Senate Republicans.

Senate Republicans fired Kristen Anderson from her job as communications director in May of 2013 alleging poor job performance.   Anderson claimed she was fired for reporting sexual harassment on the job. 

John Pemble/IPR

A Republican state lawmaker has called a hearing on what he calls obscene material presented at the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth.   

The House Oversight Committee will examine whether tax dollars were inappropriately spent.

There’ve been complaints from lawmakers in the past about the conference which is sponsored by Iowa Safe Schools to address bullying and other issues of interest to LGBTQ youth. 

Ted Murphy/flickr

A state lawmaker from Cedar Rapids today grilled the director of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission over a proposed license for a smoke-free casino in their city.  

The commission denied Cedar Rapids a gaming license in 2014, citing a saturated market for casinos.  

The city is arguing that a smoke-free casino would fill an unmet need, since smoking is allowed in other gambling houses, an exemption to Iowa’s law banning smoking in public places. 

Andy Arthur/flicker

Officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources report a problem with enforcement of Iowa's 35-year old bottle bill. 

Some retailers are turning consumers away when they bring their bottles and cans back for a refund. 

Retailers sometimes contract with redemption centers to take back the containers. But officials say centers are cutting back their hours to make ends meet. They say their one-cent handling fee hasn't been raised since the bottle bill passed.

That throws the responsibility back to retailers. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

There was emotional testimony today before a legislative committee over a new tax break for Iowa manufacturers which Democrats say the legislature should have signed off on.   

The Branstad administration proposes a sales tax exemption on more of the supplies manufacturers purchase, from drill bits to lubricants and coolants, and from saw blades to air filters and hydraulic fluids. 

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

State Sen. Rob Hogg is announcing his bid for the U.S. Senate, tomorrow in his grandmother's hometown of Callendar, located in Webster County. The Cedar Rapids Democrat will challenge Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, who has held his seat since 1981.

Hogg says he is not worried about running a financially competitive campaign against the incumbent, though he says the nation needs campaign finance reform.

Asya Akca

Republicans in the Iowa House have chosen Clear Lake Representative Linda Upmeyer to be the next Speaker of the House, and the first woman to hold the position.     Upmeyer will take over from current speaker, Hiwawatha Republican  Kraig Paulsen.  

The top Democrat in the House was quick to criticize the new leadership.   And Upmeyer’s Republican opponent for the top spot says his party needs some fresh ideas.  

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

Iowa Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen says will step down from his leadership position in January, and serve his last year in the state assembly as a rank-and-file member. The Hiawatha Republican says he will not seek a seventh term .

Paulsen says he believes it’s "just the right time" for him personally to resign from the speakership. And also he says it’s important to set up the next speaker for success.

IPTV photo

Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen says he will not run for reelection in 2016.  The Hiawatha Republican says he will step down as Speaker at the start of the 2016 legislative session, and serve out the remainder of his two-year term. Paulsen has served in the Iowa House for 13 years. He served as Minority Leader from 2008 to 2010 and has been Speaker of the House since 2011.  He said in a statement that this is, “…the right time for me to step aside as leader and allow someone else to lead the caucus,”  Gov.

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad is hearing from county attorneys around the state, as he debates whether to sign a last-minute item in a catch-all spending bill.  

The provision would privatize the collection of court fines and fees to bring in an estimated $12 million more next year.    

The Judicial Branch has pushed to improve the collection of delinquent fines.  The bill would bypass the state’s Central Collection Unit and assign the work to a private debt collector.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad Monday went to a John Deere dealership in Perry to sign a bill to facilitate more broadband in Iowa.     

It’s dubbed the Connect Acre Bill, and Branstad says agriculture is just one business that will benefit from more high-speed internet access.   

The bill includes property tax breaks for communications companies to build out broadband to underserved areas, but not the five million dollars in grants the governor asked for. 

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