Statehouse and Politics

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.

JIMMY CENTERS / OFFICE OF GOVERNOR TERRY BRANSTAD

Some spending reductions are to be expected in the upcoming budget, according to Gov. Terry Branstad. Due to lower revenue estimates, Iowa will likely have to cut about $100 million.

Despite this challenge, Branstad says he won’t consider an across-the-board cut.

"Instead I’m going to work with the legislature and make recommendations," says Branstad at his weekly news conference today. "I want to protect K-12 school aid from reductions, and property tax credits, I don’t want to see those reduced."

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

Governor Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds Monday described what they expect to be a smooth transition of power, once the governor is confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to China. 

Branstad says he will resign his current job as soon as the U.S. Senate confirms his ambassadorship. 

Once Reynolds becomes governor, she won’t have to start over filling out boards and commissions. 

Sarah Boden/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa House say one of their top priorities in the next legislative session is supplemental state aid for Iowa school districts. That’s according to Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, who met with reporters after her caucus discussed legislative priorities on Thursday.

Upmeyer says ideally, the amount of money Iowa schools will receive from the state will be set within the first 30 days of the 2017 legislative session.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Gov. Terry Branstad to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, pending Senate confirmation.  The word from the Trump transition team comes a day after the two men met at Trump Tower in New York City.

If Branstad becomes ambassador, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds would become the first woman to serve as Iowa governor.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Update Dec. 7 at 8:09 am:  Several news reports quote unnamed sources saying President-elect Trump has offered the ambassadorship to Branstad and that he has accepted.  Gov. Branstad's spokesman, Ben Hammes, tells IPR the report is "premature and not confirmed."  We will update this story as we learn more.

Tuesday's story:

Governor Branstad had what he calls a cordial conversation today with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York City.    

But the governor remains mum about a possible appointment in the new administration.   

Jimmy Centers / Office of Governor Terry Branstad

Governor Branstad will meet later this week in New York City with president-elect Donald Trump amid speculation the governor will be asked to become U.S. Ambassador to China. 

Branstad is rumored to be among Trump’s top choices for the job.   This past weekend, a Bloomberg Politics report said Branstad is the frontrunner for the post.

Branstad leaves for a previously-scheduled economic development trip to New York City Tuesday and is scheduled to meet at some point with Trump before he leaves New York.    

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.   

Iowa Department of Transportation

A new high-tech method for finding carpool partners is up and running at the Iowa Department of Transportation’s website. 

At IowaRideshare.org a motorist or passenger enters basic information to locate someone with similar transportation needs.   

The proposed route will show up on an Iowa map.

Mandie/flickr

Women who use legal drugs such as alcohol during pregnancy could be reported for possible child abuse under proposed legislation state lawmakers may be considering in January.   

Currently, mandatory reporters of child abuse must speak up if it appears an infant is born with exposure to illegal drugs. 

However, mandatory reporting does not kick in if the baby is showing signs of withdrawal from other substances.

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 Iowa Supreme Court has ruled Governor Branstad had the authority to close the state-run Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant last year.      

The court threw out a complaint by two dozen Democrats in the state legislature and the president of the union that represented many of the workers at the two facilities.  

The Mental Health Institutes were closed on June 30th of last year, putting members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees out of work.

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.  

Iowa Public Radio/Sarah Boden

A federal report released last year shows in 2014, for-profit companies managing part of Iowa’s three billion dollar Medicaid program made far fewer faulty payments than the state-run portion of the program.  

Governor Branstad says that shows fraud and abuse will go down, now that for-profit companies are in charge of most of Iowa’s Medicaid patients.      

Joyce Russell/IPR

Gov. Terry Branstad confirmed on Monday that the for-profit companies now managing Iowa’s multi-billion dollar Medicaid program did not follow the rules in the first two months of operation. But the governor also says the state issued no warnings or fees, in spite of complaints of late payments to health care providers and delayed care to patients.  

Gage Skidmore/flickr

A spokesman for Governor Branstad confirms that the governor has agreed to advise the Donald Trump campaign on renewable fuels and other issues, what the spokesman calls “issues important to Iowans".  

But the spokesman declined to comment on reports that another prominent Iowan, agribusiness leader Bruce Rastetter, is on the list for a job in a Trump administration.  

Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes is downplaying the announcement about the governor advising Trump.

John Pemble/IPR
John Pemble/IPR

There are enough state troopers roaming the Iowa State Fairgounds, so fairgoers don’t need to bring in their own weapons to protect themselves.     

That’s from Governor Branstad, commenting on the current ban on fairgoers carrying loaded guns, even  for those with concealed weapons permits.

Branstad says he supports the right to carry.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad’s chief information officer says state government is at moderate risk of attack by hackers and other malicious operators on the internet, and a new cybersecurity strategy should help mitigate that risk.    

Robert von Wolffradt says state government is concerned about the kind of attack on the Department of Revenue in South Carolina that exposed social security and credit card numbers for thousands of taxpayers.   

He says the new strategy includes a comprehensive analysis of risk and how to mitigate it.

ACLU of Iowa

A long-time employee at the Iowa Women’s Prison in Mitchellville has filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission alleging discrimination on the basis of gender identity. 

According to the complaint, 34-year old Department of Corrections transgender nurse Jesse Vroegh is being denied access to male restrooms and locker rooms, but  is allowed to use unisex facilities instead.       

Joyce Russell/IPR

A new state law is in effect expanding access to a drug that can stop the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose and prevent it from being fatal.  

In the waning hours of the legislative session, lawmakers agreed to let family members purchase the antidote ahead of an overdose emergency.   

Earlier in the session lawmakers approved a bill allowing family members or friends to possess and administer naloxone but under that bill they couldn’t buy it.  

Kevin Gabbert at the Iowa Department of Public Health says that was a big gap.

Cabrera Photo/flickr

Children living in homes where caregivers are using, selling, or manufacturing drugs may see new protections as a result of a working group convening soon in Des Moines. 

The group will study the issue after a bill filed this year on drug-endangered children failed to pass. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

Republican State Auditor Mary Mosiman warns that an $800 million state budget surplus has now fallen to about $80 million because of big property tax cuts and a new teacher leadership program.   

She warns against new multi-year commitments, now that state tax receipts have dwindled. 

Mosiman says when lawmakers passed the big programs, the state could afford them.

“It’s taxpayer money and we need to do something with it,” Mosiman says.  “So they put it to use with the multiyear commitments being education and property tax reform.” 

Randy Bayne / Flickr

In a speech after his victory in the West Virginia primary Tuesday, Bernie Sanders made a nod towards unity in his party. 

"Our message to the Democratic delegates who will be assembling in Philadelphia is while we may have many disagreements with Secretary Clinton, there is one area we agree, and that is we must defeat Donald Trump."

John Pemble/IPR

Lawmakers wrapped up the 2016 legislative session at the Statehouse on Friday, April 29. While the House and the Senate reached a deal on the budget which included tax credits for couples who adopt instead of defunding Planned Parenthood, they did not compromise on bills that would have expanded access to medical marijuana or funded new water quality initiatives in the state. 

Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia / Wikimedia Commons

Supporters of a sentencing reform bill approved by the Iowa legislature this session call it a "step in the right direction," despite the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that more steps are needed to address racial disparities in Iowa's criminal justice system.

The bill is awaiting Governor Terry Branstad's signature.

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