Statehouse and Politics

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. 

Photo by John Pemble

Governor Branstad today offered sympathy to the family of an Iowa Children’s Museum employee who was shot and killed inside the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville on Friday.   

Andrea Farrington, 20, of Cedar Rapids had reportedly complained that the suspect in the shooting had been watching her and leaving notes on her car. Governor Branstad is not ruling out new legislation on stalking as a result of the shooting.

Spring Dew/flickr

Utility employees from out-of-state who come in and save the day when there’s a major power outage would get some help at tax-filing time, under a bill state lawmakers have approved and sent to the governor. 

If Gov. Branstad signs the bill, employees who, for example, come to Iowa from Wisconsin would no longer have Iowa taxes withheld no matter how much money they earn here. 

Victoria Danielson at the Iowa Department of Revenue says the change will streamline tax-filing for the workers.

Recapping Iowa's 2015 Legislative Session

Jun 10, 2015
John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The 2015 legislative session will be remembered for what it didn’t get done as much as what it did.

Lawmakers passed a 10 cent increase in the state’s gas tax, and they expanded broadband. They also left legislation regarding bullying, guns and medical marijuana sitting idle, and it's still in question whether Governor Terry Branstad will call a special session to sort out a two-year budget for K-12 school funding. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

The Iowa Utilities Board has issued a schedule of deadlines for the controversial Bakken crude oil pipeline which would criss-cross the state from northwest to southeast.   

The schedule indicates the board will rule on the Dakota Access application by December or January.      

Dakota Access is a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer.The pipeline would transport up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.  

John Pemble / IPR

State lawmakers have gone home for the legislative session. It was another year of Republicans controlling the Iowa House and Democrats leading the Iowa Senate. Morning Edition Host Clay Masters checks in with IPR Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell one last time about the lengthy legislative session. 

Photo by John Pemble

Budget disputes prevailed to the very end, as the Iowa legislature today wrapped up its 2015 legislative session.    It now remains to be seen if the governor signs all of the roughly seven-point-three billion dollars in spending approved in the waning days.  

It was the  145th day of what was supposed to be a 110 day session.     

As the Senate put its finishing touches on education funding,    Ames Democrat Herman Quirmbach got in one last complaint.

“This bill is a band aid on a festering sore in the area of education,” Quirmbach says.

Schampeo/flickr

It's clear that the sale of so-called farm-raised deer will be taxed under a bill that passed in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session.   Debate was marked by passionate input from a leading hunting advocate in the Iowa Senate. 

Up to now, some farmers had been considering the sales to be tax-exempt in the manner of the sales of other livestock such as hogs or cattle.

Des Moines Democrat Dick Dearden says deer which are raised on farms to be sold to preserves are not raised for meet, as other farm animals are.     They’re raised for their antlers.

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa House and Senate have reached a compromise on Governor Branstad’s proposal to encourage more broadband in the state, one of his top priorities for two years in a row.  

It’s one of several pieces that are falling into place as lawmakers strive toward adjournment.  

A House-passed bill offered property tax abatements for communications companies that expand broadband into underserved areas.   But Senate Democrats questioned   whether more Iowans would actually be served.

Ryannic/flickr

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.  

Angelo Mercado/flickr

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.

John Pemble/IPR

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.

John Pemble/IPR

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

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Governor Branstad’s decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo last year.  

Democratic lawmakers and a public employee union leader sued, claiming the governor exceeded his authority by closing the home after the legislature appropriated money to run it.    

The court ruled the case is moot since no money was appropriated to reopen the home.  

Jim Wall/flickr

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.

Ted Murphy/flickr

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.”

Photo by John Pemble

Another partisan battle is underway at the statehouse over school aid, this time for the school year that starts next fall in 2016.   

Disagreement over K-12 schools for this fall is preventing adjournment of the legislature. Now Republicans and Democrats are millions of dollars apart for next year’s budget.  

Republicans say an uncertain economy requires restraint in spending for schools.  

Iowa City Democrat Mary Mascher criticizes Republicans for proposing tax cuts when she says school needs are going unmet.  

Photo by John Pemble

A tentative deal to keep Iowa’s mental health institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda open longer is meeting with stiff opposition from Democrats in the Iowa Senate. 

As part of the deal, there would no longer be any reference in Iowa law to the two institutes, nor to the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. 

Negotiators say the governor agreed to keep the institutes open through December 15, instead of closing them next month, but only if all references to the three facilities are stricken from Iowa law books. 

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.       

Photo by John Pemble

State lawmakers return to the capitol today for their third week of overtime, while the two parties remain divided over the state budget for the fiscal year that starts in July. 

Most of the work this week will be behind closed doors as the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s office strive toward a budget agreement. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R- Hiawatha) says House Republicans have not signed on to a tentative agreement on funding for K-12 schools.

Amy Mayer/IPR

A southeast Iowa lawmaker whose district includes a turkey processing business is warning that avian flu could result in layoffs, and a decline in state tax receipts.   

Republican Representative David Heaton of Mount Pleasant says that uncertainty is one reason why Republicans are holding the line on state spending.   

Heaton is concerned about the 500 employees at West Liberty Foods.

“Those jobs are now under threat by this outbreak,” Heaton says.  “My people are scared of what is going to happen to their jobs and their families.”

John Pemble/IPR

A state program that was formed after the abuse of mentally disabled men housed in a bunkhouse in Atalissa would be eliminated under a Republican social services budget bill making its way through the legislature.  

 In 2009, the federal government sued a Texas company for paying the men as little as 65 dollars a month for working in a West Liberty processing plant, and lodging them in substandard conditions.      

Riverside Democrat Sally Stutsman says the state took steps to prevent similar abuse in the future.

John Pemble

What do honey bees, baseball fields and coin-operated laundries have in common? This year, their owners are being considered as possible recipients of new state tax breaks.

On this legislative day edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer is joined by lawmakers and IPR correspondent Joyce Russell to discuss various tax bills being debated at the capitol.

Senator Joe Bolkom, a Democrat from Iowa City and Representative Tom Sands, a Republican from Wapello, also talk about what could be done with any state budget surplus, including giving it back to taxpayers.

John Pemble / IPR

Week after week it’s looked like no compromise was in sight between the state’s Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican majority House over K-12 funding, but a tentative agreement looks promising that lawmakers have figured out how much to fund schools for the coming year. IPR's Clay Masters checks in with Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell to preview the week ahead at the Iowa capitol. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

The chairman of the Iowa Republican party today announced changes to the GOP’s straw poll held each presidential election cycle.  

It has gotten increasingly more expensive for candidates to compete in the Iowa Straw Poll, and some have dropped out after poor results.   

Jeff Kaufmann says he has answered objections from current and former candidates.   

Kaufmann says for this year’s event on August 8 in Boone, they’re eliminating bidding for space at the event which has cost campaigns as much as 35,000 dollars.

John Pemble/IPR

A tentative agreement on basic state aid for K-12 schools has been reached at the statehouse.

 A disagreement between the House and Senate has stood in the way of adjournment of the 2015 session. 

An aide says Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal have reached a tentative deal, which will now be presented to rank and file legislators.     

Seth J/flickr

A bill to make it easier for cellphone companies to put up new towers passed the Iowa House today on a largely party-line vote.  

The bill would create uniform statewide standards cities and counties would have to follow, including limiting the time they could take to approve a new tower.  

Boone Republican Chip Baltimore says dealing with different local rules slows things down for cellphone companies.

“It’s an attempt to expedite the application process,” Baltimore says, “and then also make sure that cities and counties are not second-guessing business decisions.”

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.

Pages