Statehouse News, May 1, 2015

State Representative Curt Hanson

Week Sixteen Newsletter 05-1-2015

Friday, May 1, was the end of per diem for this legislative session, meaning legislative employees are not paid beyond that date, including legislators. We will likely meet sporadically in the coming weeks to continue negotiating the budget. I will only be contributing a column when there is news to report for the remainder of this session.

This week we started moving budgets through the House. While it is encouraging that we finally started these discussions, I know many of these budgets will end up being negotiated between House and Senate leaders in conference committees.

As we get a sense for what we can feasibly complete this session, we are also learning what will likely not be completed this session. House Leadership has said they do not plan to bring the medical cannabis bill passed by the Iowa Senate to a vote in the House. Despite requests from some of my colleagues, we also have yet to discuss and vote on the anti-bullying bill. Some issues take several sessions to progress through the legislature, which may be the case for these bills.

The Governor has proposed a plan to save money by privatizing Medicaid services and closing two state mental health facilities. The results of a Public Policy Polling survey of 1,219 Iowa voters found that 68 percent of Iowans surveyed are opposed to the Governor’s plan to close the two state mental health facilities in Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant, compared to just 12 percent supporting the proposal.

While the bills under consideration may be different this week, the conversation remains very much the same. House Leadership has said many times on the floor that they are committed to strict budget principles and will not fund schools at more than 1.25 percent.

As I have mentioned before, it is possible to fund schools at the compromise offer of 2.625 percent without tapping into our reserve funds. We need to provide the services Iowans are letting us know that they want. This includes sustaining operations at Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant and providing schools the necessary funds to provide a competitive education for our students.

On Monday, I joined other members of the House Education Committee on a visit to the Des Moines Downtown School to see the innovative education strategies that are producing outstanding results in the Des Moines public school system. Children from across the Des Moines Metropolitan Area attend the year-round school, which has benefitted from small classes and an integrated curriculum. I was very impressed by some of the students who read aloud to me during the visit—their enthusiasm and concentration were admirable.

According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the USDA, initial testing has indicated probable avian influenza outbreaks at as many as 17 commercial poultry sites in Iowa, with an estimated 15 million chickens and turkeys likely to die as a result. The recent outbreaks will undoubtedly affect the price of eggs and poultry in the coming months for consumers nationwide.

On Wednesday, we passed HF 650, the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF) Budget, which includes funding for a number of brick-and-mortar projects across the state. This budget includes maintaining current funding of Iowa Great Places designations, which includes Fairfield and Van Buren County. The Great Places designation is awarded to communities and regions that demonstrate their unique qualities that draw tourists and industry to Iowa. They receive a three year grant, but the designation is permanent. I am proud to represent these and other truly great communities in House District 82.

Though the 110 official days of the legislative session may have come to a close, I will continue working for each of you and advocating for the issues that matter to our district both in the Legislature and at home.

Gaskill, Hanson Vote to Keep Higher Education Affordable; End School Funding Crisis

State Representatives Curt Hanson of Fairfield and Mary Gaskill of Ottumwa voted for a plan to keep tuition affordable at Indian Hills Community College.

“Building a highly skilled workforce is key to growing our local economy and keeping tuition affordable at Indian Hills is critical to reaching that goal,” said Rep. Gaskill.  “Our plan will make sure is available to every Iowan so they can get the skills needed to land a good job.”

The two lawmakers voted to boost state funding to Iowa’s 15 community colleges as well as provide tuition grants for students at private colleges.  They also supported a plan to freeze tuition at the University of Iowa, Iowa State, and the University of Northern Iowa.

“Over the last few months, I’ve been listening to parents, educators and school leaders who have told me it’s time to resolve the school funding crisis and invest in our k-12 schools,” added Hanson.  “I supported a compromise plan resolve the crisis and prevent higher class sizes.”

Since schools have been waiting for over a year, Hanson and Gaskill offered a plan to the education budget (House File 658) that would increase basic state funding for schools next year by 2.625%.  It’s a compromise between Democrats, who have offered 6%, 4%, and Republicans, who have offered only 1.25% next year.

Other parts of the plan include expanding support to prevent early readers from falling behind and continuing Iowa’s teacher mentoring program.

 

Statehouse News, April 10th

Many children spent this Easter weekend hunting for eggs, and, as the legislators returned to the Capitol, we continued hunting for solutions to many of the legislative stalemates we are facing. Many of the non-controversial bills we have passed in the House over the last few weeks are good pieces of legislation that we hope will improve the lives of Iowans. I cannot help but think, however, that we shouldn’t be spending time on these bills until we work through the important budget issues that seem to continue being placed on hold.

Typically the House and Senate Majority Leaders have developed joint budget targets for budget subcommittees around mid-February, but that is not the case this year, so budget subcommittees are waiting, as well.

I cannot repeat enough times how important education is—not just for our children’s futures, but for our state’s future. Economic growth is neither a race to the top of putting up the most offices or factories nor a race to the bottom of providing the lowest tax cuts. It’s about building a workforce with the skills needed to fill those offices and factories. Educating a skilled workforce isn’t cheap, and it’s financed with tax dollars.

The tipping point where tax cuts require reducing the quality of education, from pre-school to higher education, is when they stop being advantageous because it results in fewer graduates with marketable skills and makes a state less attractive to potential businesses.

This week the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and the Iowa Biodiesel Board visited the Capitol to discuss their legislative priorities with legislators. ­On Tuesday I visited with Sparky Wellman of Bonaparte. Ms. Wellman is the SE Regional Vice President for the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Executive Committee. I also had a chance to talk with Jennifer Gardner from the Van Buren Farm Bureau about funds for soil and water conservation projects.

A number of constituents have shared with me their concerns about oversight in the Governor’s proposal to contract out Medicaid services to managed care companies. I believe strong oversight is needed in awarding a $600 million contract that deals with our most vulnerable and is in the best interest of patients, taxpayers, and providers. The Governor has said his proposal will save the state $50 million, but many are worried that patients and providers will suffer in this transition of services. Some have said that they worry companies may submit low bids for the immediate contract only to raise the prices in subsequent contracts, which will reverse the $50 million in savings. In my opinion, we should move forward with caution and consider the problems and mistakes other states have made in their efforts to privatize services for the elderly and disabled.

In addition to managed care for Medicaid, several attendees at the Ottumwa League of Women Voters forum a few weeks ago had questions about state and federal civil forfeiture laws that have been brought into the spotlight after a Des Moines Register investigation. The House Oversight Committee plans on looking into use of forfeiture laws by Iowa law enforcement in the next few weeks.

The Department of Natural Resources has completed their study of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer in Allamakee County and found no new cases, which is very encouraging for Iowa naturalists and hunters. According to the DNR, the four Allamakee samples that prompted this special collection in the last few months are the only CWD-positive returns on the 55,000 samples of wild Iowa deer taken since 2002.

In an ongoing conversation about the nature of fantasy sports, SF 281 is expected to be debated in the Iowa House in the coming weeks. I have heard the opinions of many. The threshold for whether wagering money in an activity is considered “gambling” is in whether or not skill is required to participate in the activity.

Some advocate that participating in fantasy sports requires skill, while others believe the outcome of the sporting events is uncertain, and therefore should be considering gambling. If fantasy sports are considered gambling, any wagering in these activities would be subject to regulation and age restriction.

I have also heard the opinion that small stakes wagers have long been practiced among friends and co-workers and any attempts to regulate fantasy sports will be in vain, as it is unrealistic to expect enforcement of such regulations. If you have thoughts or opinions on the regulation of fantasy sports, please feel free to share them with me. I value your feedback immensely.

Representatives of the Iowa Environmental Council met with legislators this week to discuss the proposal of requiring at least 10 percent of any state funds allocated to the Water Quality Initiative (WQI) is dedicated to water quality testing and assessment in WQI projects. In November 2012 the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences released the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

IDALS has awarded state funds to projects based on the strategy across the state since then. Now both the state and taxpayers want to know if these efforts are working. Without proper measurement and monitoring, we have no basis for evaluating our efforts to reduce nutrient deposits in our water.

Please phone or email me with your concerns.  You may email me at Curt.Hanson@legis.iowa.gov or you may telephone me at 641-919-2314.  My home number is 641-472-3349 and is found in the Fairfield telephone book.  Your message is important to me and the people of this district.