DMR: Funnel narrows legislative agenda
Feb. 23, 2014 |
Written by Jason Noble and William Petroski
As the Iowa Legislature returns Monday to begin the seventh week of its 2014 session, its priorities are starting to take shape.
Last week’s so-called “funnel” deadline siphoned off dozens of bills, distilling the legislative agenda to initiatives that offer the Republican House and Democratic Senate their best shots at bipartisan agreement (or, in some cases, partisan political opportunity). The funnel rule — which has some exceptions — means a bill is dead for the session unless it received committee approval in at least one chamber.
Among the bills that remain alive are high-profile efforts to expand broadband Internet access in rural Iowa, reduce bullying in schools and attract veterans to live and work in the state. More partisan efforts to restrict abortion and raise the minimum wage are also still on the table.
The below list, although by no means exhaustive, catalogs much of the legislation still viable for passage this year, and which could generate substantive discussion and debate in the weeks to come.
These bills fall into three general categories: elements of Gov. Terry Branstad’s agenda, areas of potential bipartisan agreement, and partisan bills likely to win approval in one chamber and disappear in the other.
THE BRANSTAD AGENDA
School officials would be required to inform parents of bullying incidents involving their children and would be allowed to impose discipline at school for incidents of bullying that occurred off school grounds if the incident caused a disruption at school. The definition of bullying is expanded to include harassment that takes place on social media like Twitter or Facebook. House Study Bill 525. Senate Study Bill 3149.
The governor’s proposal to expand high-speed Internet across the state includes tax breaks for new broadband infrastructure and allows private companies to lease bandwidth on the state-run Iowa Communications Network to extend lines to rural customers. House Study Bill 515. Senate Study Bill 3119.
Home Base Iowa
Branstad’s Home Base Iowa plan for attracting veterans to live and work in the state has several components contained in separate bills. Among them are an income tax exemption on military pensions and measures granting college credits for military education and training and easing professional licensing for veterans in fields for which they received military training. House File 2224. House Study Bill 616. House Study Bill 656. Senate File 303.
Public building rehabilitation
Abandoned public buildings such as schools or city offices would be eligible for tax credits to encourage renovation and make them usable for commercial use or community centers. The measure is another that Branstad identified as a top priority this year. House File 2287.
POTENTIAL FOR COMPROMISE
Gas tax increase
About 200 people representing business and farm groups and local governments descended on the Statehouse in January to lobby for a 10-cent-per-gallon increase in the state’s gasoline and diesel fuel tax. The goal is to raise an additional $230 million annually to maintain Iowa’s roads and bridges. A House subcommittee has approved a bill authorizing a dime fuel tax hike spread over three years, and the issue is still being explored by Democrats and Republicans behind the scenes. Most of the focus is on the Senate Republican caucus, where GOP lawmakers have reportedly balked at the idea, particularly in an election year. House Study Bill 514.
Iowa Juvenile Home
Branstad shut down the Iowa Juvenile Home at Toledo amid reports of abuse and neglect of troubled young people, sparking concerns among lawmakers of both parties. A child welfare bill creating a new state juvenile facility for girls at an unspecified site has cleared a Senate committee, but with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed. Both sides agree they want to focus on the best interests of children, so look for further discussions. Senate File 2084.
Senate Democrats say they are committed to eliminating waiting lists for preschool programs for 4-year-olds, contending it’s the next logical step toward better school performance. The state has offered families free preschool instruction since 2007, yet roughly a third of children don’t participate. When fully implemented after three years, Democrats say the program’s annual ongoing costs would be about $37 million. Branstad and House Republicans haven’t rejected the idea, but say they have concerns about finding money to pay for the expansion. Senate Study Bill 3155.
Abuse of older Iowans would be broadly addressed for the first time under state law under pending legislation that represents two years of work by a state task force. Iowa law currently covers dependent abuse, but the proposed law would specifically focus on issues involving persons age 60 and older. The legislation provides civil and criminal protections, and defines elder abuse as the abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of an older individual. Senate File 2117. House File 2106.
Vendors would be prohibited from selling electronic cigarettes to minors under 18 and minors would be barred from using or possessing the nicotine-delivery devices. The bill also defines e-cigarettes separately from tobacco products, exempting them from tobacco taxes and the indoor smoking ban. House File 2109.
Cities and counties would be permitted to use traffic control devices such as red-light and speeding cameras, but law enforcement officials would be required to review tickets issued by the devices and fines would be capped at $75, among other regulations. House File 2202.
Lawmakers are exploring state regulation of remotely piloted aircraft as hobbyists, businesses and law enforcement look at tapping the potential use of drones. One idea is requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain search warrants to use remotely piloted aircraft to secure evidence, and another is to require other drone users to obtain permission if they shoot photos over your property. Senate File 2157. House File 427.
Texting while driving
Texting while driving becomes a primary offense under a pending Senate bill. That means state troopers and other law enforcement officers can pull over motorists who are texting. Currently, a texting violation is enforceable only when a motorist has been stopped for a suspected violation of another law, such as speeding or running a traffic light. The code prohibits drivers from using a handheld device to write, read or send a text message. Senate Study Bill 3191.
Iowans could legally buy and set off firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles and other retail fireworks. Retail fireworks have been banned in Iowa since the 1930s after the northwest Iowa towns of Spencer and Remsen sustained huge losses in blazes caused by fireworks. Senate Study Bill 3182.
Radon testing in schools
School districts would be required to test all schools for cancer-causing radon gas by June 2016, and to take action at any buildings where gas levels exceed a level identified as safe by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Senate File 2127.
The bill would formalize a rule enacted last year regulating romantic relationships between teachers and their former students. Dating a student within 90 days of his or her graduation would constitute unethical conduct and could result in disciplinary action for the teacher. House Study Bill 659.
Iowans could win cash and other prizes while playing fantasy sports, which state law now prohibits. A national organization for fantasy sports is lobbying to lift the ban, estimating that 264,000 Iowans participate in the games. House File 2128. Senate Study Bill 3108.
Iowa Speedway/Knoxville Raceway incentives
After NASCAR bought the Iowa Speedway at Newton late last year, they wanted to keep a $9 million state sales tax rebate given to the previous Iowa owners. But legislation is needed to transfer the tax break to NASCAR, and lawmakers want promises of track improvements. Meanwhile, the Knoxville Raceway is seeking a state sales tax rebate of up to $2 million to help pay for an expansion. House File 2281. Senate Study Bill 3162.
Closing greyhound tracks
Casinos in Council Bluffs and Dubuque are offering Iowa’s greyhound industry $70 million to allow them to shut down money-losing dog tracks adjacent to Horseshoe Casino and Mystique Casino. The greyhound industry wants $95 million, plus an opportunity to open a new greyhound track and casino, which the gambling industry speculates would be in Ottumwa. City leaders have twice lost bids to secure casino licenses. House Study Bill 621, Senate Study Bill 3183, Senate Study Bill , Senate Study Bill 3199.
Pimps and prostitution
County attorneys would have discretion to refer prostitutes under age 18 to social services rather than bringing criminal charges against them. Pimps would face tougher penalties for trafficking underage prostitutes. House File 2254.
In response to the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard of Dayton last year, lawmakers want tougher penalties for crimes against children. One bill would require a 25-year prison term for anyone convicted of kidnapping someone age 16 or younger. Another would allow courts to use evidence from juvenile delinquency proceedings as evidence in civil commitment proceedings for sexually violent predators. House members are looking at eliminating the earned-time credit — which can reduce prison sentences — for crimes involving children. Senate Study Bill 3079. Senate Study Bill 3076. House Study Bill 501.
Restraints on pregnant inmates
A bill to restrict the use of handcuffs, shackles and other restraints on pregnant inmates is returning after stalling last year. It would apply to state prisons, county jails and other detention facilities. It would generally prohibit correctional officers from using handcuffs, shackles or other restraints on pregnant inmates during labor, delivery and postpartum recovery. However, an officer could use restraints if the offender was a serious flight risk or other circumstances required their use. Senate File 2019.
Law enforcement officers who use Tasers would be required to undergo standardized training through the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. The legislation was introduced after two men died in Iowa last year when they were subjected to Taser jolts from law enforcement officers. Tasers are used by more than 265 Iowa law enforcement agencies. Senate Study Bill 3077.
CAMPAIGN TRAIL BILLS
Medical providers would be forbidden from prescribing and dispensing abortion-causing medication via remote video conferencing. The ban affects Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s telemedicine abortion procedures in which Des Moines doctors oversee medication abortion for women in rural clinics. Republicans favor the ban while Democrats sharply oppose it. House File 2175.
The minimum wage in Iowa would rise incrementally from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by January 2016. This is a top Democratic priority that Republicans generally oppose. Senate Study Bill 3194.
Ex-convict voting rights
Upon discharge from certain criminal sentences, citizenship rights related to voting and holding public office would be restored under proposed legislation promoted by Senate Democrats. But Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, says that under the Iowa Constitution those rights can only be restored by the executive branch — meaning the governor’s office — not the Legislature. Under a policy enacted in 2005 by Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, former offenders automatically regained their voting rights after discharge from prison or parole. But when Branstad returned in 2011, he signed an executive order requiring them to serve a criminal sentence, pay fines and court costs, and be current on restitution. Senate File 127.