Iowa legislature

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A fight by Iowa cities over where communications  companies can erect cellphone towers has been resolved at the statehouse.  

That eliminates one more roadblock as lawmakers slog toward adjournment of the 2015 session.  

Des Moines Democrat Janet Peterson says interested parties hammered out an agreement on how much say-so cities can have.

‘We had a number of concessions where the League of Cities came together,” Peterson.   “They said they thought they could live with the changes that are being made.”

John Pemble/IPR

After weeks of bipartisan negotiations, the Iowa House and Senate last night defied the governor, and voted to have the state continue to operate the Mental Health Institute at Mount Pleasant.  

A spokesman for Governor Branstad says he will carefully review the bill.

By a comfortable margin in the Senate, and a narrow margin in the House, a Health and Human Services budget was approved to hire back laid-off workers at Mount Pleasant and restore mental health services.   Clarinda will stay open through December with a plan to privatize services after that.  

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With some opposition, the Iowa Senate today approved a resolution that will allow the Meskwaki settlement near Tama to assume jurisdiction for criminal justice.

Tama County oversees law enforcement and prosecutions at the settlement.  

The resolution asks the federal government to repeal a 1948 law giving the state of Iowa oversight of offenses by Meskwakis against Meskwakis.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says tribal leaders  have been asking for this for a long time.

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Iowa House and Senate leaders are expressing optimism that a proposed budget for higher education will be enough to fund a tuition freeze at the Regents universities for the third year in a row.   But a Regents spokesman declined to comment on the effect on university budgets until full details are released. 

 Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal says a tentative budget deal worked out last week includes a one-point-two-five percent increase for the Regents schools.

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UPDATE:  6/1/2015 3:00 p.m. House Republicans and Senate Democrats released more details of the budget agreement reached last week.

JOINT TARGETS FY16

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It would be easier for farmers to receive a sales tax exemption on off-road vehicles under a bill still eligible for passage by the 2015 legislature. 

Farmers get a sales tax exemption for machinery and equipment used for farming, including ATV’s.    But the law says the vehicle must be used directly for production agriculture.  

Victoria Daniels at the Department of Revenue says by law you can’t use the vehicle  “in preparation for or subsequent to” agricultural production.   She says that’s hard to enforce.

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A new tax break for Iowa’s casino industry has so far not made it through the Iowa legislature. 

But backers say if it doesn’t pass this year, they will bring the issue back in 2016.  

Wes Ehrecke with the Iowa Gaming Association says casinos shouldn’t have to pay state sales tax on the full amount if a gambler is paying part of his bill with a coupon.

“You have a tax on unreal money, it’s fake money, it’s a coupon,” Ehrecke says. “And  when you go to Kohl’s or Hy-Vee or somewhere and you get a $20, coupon the business doesn’t pay tax on that.” 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Parents of grown children who died from drug overdose were at the capitol today lobbying for legislation they say might have saved lives.

Activists wore shirts bearing the name of Andy Lamp, a Davenport man who died of an overdose of heroin at the age of 33.    

His mother Kim Brown says a friend who was with him at the time was unable to help.

“He died May 25, 2011 of an accidental overdose,” Brown says.  “He wasn’t alone and I’m here in support of our overdose prevention bill.”

Children and Young People's Research Network/flickr

A $3 million state program to support treatment of autism in children will continue under a social services bill making its way through the legislature. But one backer wants a change in how the money is spent.   

Mount Pleasant Republican David Heaton says the program has faltered, not through lack of interest, but through lack of expertise in treating autism.       

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad’s broadband bill, which passed the House earlier this session by a wide margin, received a cool welcome Tuesday at its first hearing in the Democratically controlled Senate.    

This is the second year the governor has asked for incentives for telecommunications companies to expand broadband.   Democrats question whether tax breaks would result in more Iowans with high-speed internet.     

Telecommunications lobbyists crowded a committee room in the Iowa Senate, where Des Moines Democrat Janet Peterson was in charge.

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Iowa dog breeders would undergo new inspections and pay new fees to cover the cost, under a bill advancing in the Iowa Senate today by critics of so-called “puppy mills.”   Des Moines Democrat Matt McCoy says the United States Department of Agriculture is not keeping up with inspections of more than 200 Iowa breeders and more than 1,500 dogs.  He says nearly half of the operations the USDA inspects are cited for violations.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republicans and Democrats joined hands at the Capitol Tuesday arguing for landowner rights in the face of two large energy projects, the Bakken crude oil pipeline and the Rock Island Clean Line,  a proposed 500 mile electric transmission line.  

 Lawmakers say Iowa’s law is out of date when it comes to condemning land for big private projects.     

Photo by John Pemble/IPR

A Republican-dominated committee in the Iowa House has approved a controversial Board of Regents plan to give more money to state universities that attract more Iowa students.

It’s called performance-based funding.   

But the panel approved no money to soften the blow for the University of Iowa. 

Photo by John Pemble / IPR

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is currently in his sixth term as governor. As the 2015 legislative session nears a close, he says that legislation on the gas tax and broadband access for rural communities are the biggest accomplishments of this session.

In this River to River interview, IPR statehouse correspondent Joyce Russell talks with the governor about his views on medical marijuana, granting felons voter rights, and how he plans to deal with the budget impasse.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is in Brazil this week.  

She’ll return on Saturday from a week-long trade mission to one of the state’s largest trading partners.     

Reynolds says Iowa and Brazil are both leaders in agriculture and agricultural equipment.

“The delegation is comprise of 15 individuals representing various Iowa industries,” Reynolds says, “and the mission will include two cities, Sao Paulo and Ribeirão Preto.”  

Travel will be paid by private donations to the Iowa Economic Development Authority Foundation.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter says he’s still lobbying hard for a controversial plan to redistribute state funds to Iowa’s Regents Universities.   

The plan would appropriate money on the basis of how many Iowa students each university attracts, with more money going to University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University, and less to the University of Iowa.  

Neither the House nor the Senate education budget includes money for the proposal, but Rastetter says that’s not the final word.

Photo by John Pemble/IPR

A  transportation expert in the Iowa House warns Iowa's gas tax increase will fall short of meeting the state's transportation infrastructure needs.   

Burlington Democrat Dennis Cohoon says the Department of Transportation  estimates the state will need more than $215 million for road and bridge work.  The gas tax increase will bring in $204 million or less.

“Most of us are aware that this is not a long-term solution,” Cohoon says. “The revenue from the gas tax will diminish over time.” 

Cohoon says other ideas floated by the DOT should be on the table.

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad is urging an eastern Iowa town not to violate the spirit of the state’s new law raising the gas tax by ten cents a gallon.   

 The city of Clinton’s share of the new revenue is 470-thousand dollars, and the city council proposes spending more than half of that to hire new employees whose work would include street repair.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate say the money should go directly into infrastructure, and Branstad agrees.

Photo by John Pemble

Iowa drivers with handicapped parking permits are being warned of a safety hazard, and the head of the Transportation Committee in the Iowa House is taking steps to fix it.  

The House has approved a measure by Osage Republican Josh Byrnes that will redesign the parking placards so it’s clearer they should be taken down while driving.  

“It’s an obstruction to the vision of the driver,” Byrnes says. “It's been brought to my attention from bicyclists and motorcyclists. Because they're smaller than a car or truck, it’s harder to see those folks.” 

John Pemble/IPR

The head of the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy was in charge when an assistant director was accused of sexual harassment.

Now a deadline has passed for the Iowa Senate to confirm ILEA Director Arlen Ciechanowski for another term.   

Problems at the agency surfaced during a Senate Oversight Committee hearing last year on the hiring and firing practices of the Branstad administration.     A 2012 investigation concluded assistant director Michael Quinn made offensive remarks to female recruits.   Quinn stayed in his position until Director Ciechanowski fired him last year. 

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At least one school district in the state has notified teachers they’ll be getting pink slips while an impasse continues at the statehouse over how much money schools should get next year.     

Governor Branstad is downplaying the impact of the layoffs on schools.    

By April 30, schools must either renew contracts with teachers or lay them off at least temporarily  if they still don’t know how much money they’ll get from the state.   

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad’s reappointment of the Iowa  Department of Human Services director gained the necessary 2/3 vote in the Iowa  Senate yesterday.  

Democrats argued against Chuck Palmer because of what they call the illegal closings of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo and the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant.  

Cedar Rapids Democrat Rob Hogg calls Palmer a capable administrator.

John Pemble/IPR

A bill to get criminal records expunged for defendants charged with crimes that are later dismissed won unanimous approval in the Iowa House.  

That’s after lawmakers told stories about constituents who met with unfair treatment from the courts.

A woman in Democrat Sharon Steckman’s district was charged with dealing meth, but it was a case of mistaken identity, so the charges were dropped.

“You would think it would be over,” Steckman says. “For her it was not over.”

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Getting into the business of raising honeybees would get a little easier under legislation that has advanced in the Iowa House. 

To address a decline in the pollinator's population, lawmakers want to exempt the purchase of honeybees from the state sales tax. They say that will encourage hobbyists to raise more bees.

Keokuk Democrat Jerry Kearns opposes the bill.

“First off, let me tell you I’m not a honeybee hater,” Kearns says.  “But taking the sales tax off of honeybees is not going to help at all.”

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Some Iowa industries would pay fees for the first time in order to enforce clean air regulations, under a bill making its way through the Iowa Senate.   

The Department of Natural Resources says fees are based on the weight of emitted pollutants and the state has collected less money as industries have reduced emissions.

The DNR is negotiating with regulated industries to come up with a new fee structure. 

Photo by John Pemble

Republicans in the Iowa House say they still support so-called stand your ground legislation, even though it has not been a gun rights priority this year.    

The House and Senate are considering a wide-ranging bill backed by the NRA, but it does not include a provision that says you can defend yourself with lethal force outside your home with no duty to retreat or avoid conflict.     

Senate Republican leader Bill Dix says stand your ground legislation remains a constituent priority.

iprimages

Republicans in the Iowa House Wednesday revived wide-ranging firearms legislation, agreeing to some demands from Senate Democrats.  

Senate Democrats argued an earlier bill threatened public safety.  

The GOP agreed to drop a proposal to eliminate the three day waiting period to purchase a handgun.  

Earlier this week the differences between the House and Senate seemed insurmountable.   Democrats wanted to preserve the required permit to acquire a handgun including a three day waiting period and mandatory background checks.   

Joyce Russell/IPR

An eleventh hour attempt is underway in the Republican-dominated Iowa House to delay Governor Branstad’s plan to close the mental health institutes at Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.

Republicans and Democrats alike want to keep the facilities open until alternative arrangements can be made for patients. 

Acute care at Mount Pleasant is scheduled to shut down next Monday and staff will be laid off.   A bill from the Democratic-controlled Senate has now cleared a three-member panel in the House to continue to accept patients through the end of the fiscal year. 

John Pemble

Iowa has a law mandating life in prison without parole for teen killers, but this law is deemed unconstitutional by both the U.S. and the Iowa Supreme Courts.

A proposal moving through Iowa’s legislature would modify the state’s current law mandating life in prison for juveniles convicted of murder. The legislation gives judges three sentencing options. One of those options is still life in prison without parole.

John Pemble/IPR

An executive with the alternative transportation company known as Uber was at the capitol today, lobbying for a bill the company says would help them expand to more Iowa communities.   

Uber offers rides like a taxi, except the drivers use their own cars and drum up business through a smartphone app.   

“This bill provides a uniform standard,” says Uber General Manager Pooneet Kant. “With Des Moines, there’s also West Des Moines a driver could be going through. We think having a uniform standard makes more sense.”  

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