Statehouse and Politics

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa public safety officials say they make a handful of arrests each year for attempted child abductions, and they’re advising Iowans to be aware of suspicious activity now that children will be outside in spring weather.  

The Department of Public Safety last year formed a Child Abduction Response Team after abductions and murders of children in Evansdale and Dayton.  

Department Director Roxann Ryan says Iowans are already phoning in when they see something that looks like an abduction in progress.

John Pemble / IPR

Lawmakers return to the capitol in Des Moines for what is expected to be the final week of the 2016 legislative session. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talked with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell about the big issues they’re going to tackle (or not) before they can go home.

1)      The State Budget. This is always an issue Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House have to agree over.  A GOP Human Services Budget bill that defunds Planned Parenthood must be reconciled with the Democratic Senate.  

John Pemble

Families striving to raise autistic children would get help under a human services budget approved in  the Republican-controlled Iowa House this week.   

But Democrats say private insurers should cover the treatment to take the burden off taxpayers.

Under the bill, more families will have access to a revolving fund to pay for intensive treatment.

“To be able to have early intervention will offer an opportunity to reach a state of normalcy,”  said Rep. David Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant).  

Photo by John Pemble

The golden dome of the historic Iowa State Capitol is succumbing to damage from the inside out, and scaffolding will soon envelop the structure as part of a $10 million restoration.  

The dome was regilded in 2005, but McCoy says the current problems weren't apparent during a prior restoration project. 

Des Moines Democrat Matt McCoy says moisture has seeped in and eroded the mortar.

“They are going to have to go up into the dome, with scaffolding all around the dome,” McCoy says, “and fix and repair the cupola on down.”

Joyce Russell/IPR

A state senator best known for leading a long and controversial fight to legalize the hunting of mourning doves said farewell to the Iowa Senate today. 

Des Moines Democrat and avid hunting enthusiast Dick Dearden is retiring after 20 years in the legislature. 

In remarks to his fellow Senators, Dearden recalls leading passage of the dove hunting bill three times before it finally became law in 2011. 

He remembers what he calls one of his favorite e-mails from an animal rights enthusiast:

Photo by John Pemble

A controversial measure to defund Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions is again under consideration at the statehouse, with the blessing of Governor Branstad. 

Republicans have added the measure to a human services budget bill, setting up a showdown with Democratic critics.   

The governor won’t comment on the specific legislation, but at his weekly news conference he made his views clear.

Wikimedia Commons

As the Iowa legislature strives toward adjournment, we look to surrounding states to compare and contrast priorities at other statehouses in the Midwest during this hour of River to River. During this conversation, Iowa Public Radio Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell talks with Brandon Smith of Indiana Public Broadcasting, Brian Mackey of WUIS in Springfield, Illinois, and Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/flickr

A bill to appropriate historic levels of funding for water quality passed the Iowa House last night by a vote of 65 to 33. 

Democrats argued it may not be enough to keep the federal government from taking over enforcement of clean water in the state.     

The bill was approved after six hours of private meetings and two hours of public debate. 

John Pemble

The penny sales tax that funds school infrastructure projects is set to expire in 2029.

On this edition of River to River, Iowa Public Radio Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell hosts a discussion on the history and the future of the penny sales tax. She's joined by the Superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, Thomas Ahart, as well as Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D) and Rep. Matt Windschitl (R). 

Photo by John Pemble

The split Iowa Legislature has taken another step toward adjournment by agreeing to state budget targets. Details for the budget of about $7.3 billion remain pretty vague at this point. Here’s what IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell says are the important details to watch this week:

Cedar Ridge Distillery

Beer manufacturers and wholesalers are trying to stop a bill in the legislature that would benefit Iowa’s burgeoning distillery industry.  

The bill would put makers of spirits on a more even playing field with breweries and wineries.   

Under the bill, distilleries could sell spirits by the glass in their tasting rooms and increase the daily sales limit.   Wineries and brewers can sell by the glass and bottle with no sales or production limits.    

Ryan Harvey / Flickr

Iowa is one of only a handful of states where it isn't legal to cash out an online fantasy sports bet. That could change this legislative session. Rep. Jake Highfill, a Republican from Johnston, introduced legislation that would legalize cash prizes for participating in the games online. Rep. Guy Vander Linden of Oskaloosa, says that type of gaming needs regulation.

Reji/flickr

Republicans in the Iowa House Monday added more money to their water quality initiative, proposing to spend nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars over the next 13 years.  

But experts estimate that meeting goals for nitrates in the water will cost as much as five-and-a-half billion dollars.

“We have a severe water quality issue in the state of Iowa,” said Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt (D-Cedar Rapids).   “Especially with nitrates.”

John Pemble

Here’s what to know going into the week at the Iowa legislature.

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. 

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.

Photo Courtesy of Rita Dvorak

In 2015, Iowa had a record number of beach closures due to blue green algae blooms. That, in addition to a lawsuit filed against three northwestern Iowa counties, is bringing increased attention to water quality in the state.

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. 

Intel Free Press/flickr

The popularity of online shopping may be behind slower growth in Iowa sales tax collections in recent months.  

That’s according to one member of the Revenue Estimating Conference which reports lackluster growth in the Iowa economy.

The REC met Wednesday and predicted only a slight increase in tax revenues since their last assessment in December.  

Department of Management Director Dave Roederer says they are most concerned about sales tax collections.

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.   

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.

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.

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.     

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