Iowa Legislature expected to tackle education, water quality
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - As it begins a new session Monday, Iowa lawmakers will delve back into some longstanding issues, such as K-12 education spending, and take on some new topics, like Gov. Terry Branstad's proposal to fund water quality efforts.
Here are five things to know ahead of the session.
The Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-led House have long been at odds over how much money to spend on K-12 education, and the 2016 session will continue that pattern.
Legislative leaders have different calculations of how much new state revenue is available - they're about $127 million apart - and it will impact how much they're willing to increase base funding to school districts. The issue delayed the state budget's approval last session before leaders agreed on an increase. Branstad vetoed some additional one-time spending for schools, a move that surprised many lawmakers and was criticized by Democrats.
Legislative leaders say they want to tackle education spending early this session, but it's unclear how much each side is willing to compromise after Branstad's veto.
WATER QUALITY FUNDING
Branstad has unveiled a proposal to fund water quality initiatives with the help of an existing 1-cent sales tax for school infrastructure improvements, but it could hit a roadblock as lawmakers question whether to touch the money.
The tax has generated about $3.2 billion for schools since 2008 and is set to expire in 2029. Under Branstad's plan, the tax would be expanded by 20 years and a portion would be diverted to a water quality fund. Water quality in the state gained attention after Des Moines Water Works sued three Iowa counties over nitrate levels in water that utility officials say is linked to fertilizers washing out of farm fields.
Branstad calls the plan his most ambitious. Legislative leaders say they're reviewing it, though Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, of Council Bluffs, has been critical.
Mounting Democratic criticism over Branstad's proposal to privatize the state's $4.2 billion Medicaid program could translate into some legislative action this year.
The switch was scheduled to begin Jan. 1 but federal officials delayed it until March 1 because they believed the selected private companies weren't ready to take over the work. An administrative law judge also recommended the state toss a contract with one of the companies, a move that's already led to a lawsuit.
Legislation that would have created an oversight group to track the managed care switch did not advance last session though a legislative panel did emerge after the budget was passed. House Speaker-elect Linda Upmeyer, of Clear Lake, said oversight can be accomplished through existing legislative committees, but she's open to considering the proposal.
EXPANDED TAX EXEMPTION
The Department of Revenue recently expanded manufacturing tax exemption rules for businesses in the state, and there's a possibility Democrats could challenge it.
The move expands the sales and use tax exemption for certain machinery and equipment used for manufacturing. Department officials say they needed to add clarity to the state's tax rules.
Democrats criticized the changes because they were done through a procedural move that didn't require a legislative vote. They also criticized the potential financial impact to the state; the Legislative Services Agency estimates it will reduce state and local tax revenue by nearly $48 million in the fiscal year that begins in July.
The expansion is set to take effect in July unless Democrats stop it through legislation. Republican leaders, who have signaled support for the changes, may make that impossible.
Conservative lawmakers routinely attempt but fail to gain approval of legislation that further restricts abortions in Iowa, but a heightened national spotlight on Planned Parenthood could give them momentum.
Planned Parenthood's opponents have criticized the organization after undercover videos made by anti-abortion activists purported to show officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue in violation of federal law. Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing, but a number of states have moved to cut state funding for the organization.
Some Iowa Republicans have indicated they intend to support legislation that would strip state funding to Planned Parenthood, though such money already doesn't fund abortion services. Gronstal says the Senate would halt any action.