Statehouse News, Feb. 11

This weekend my wife and I visited the American Gothic House and the new static railroad engine display in Eldon, Iowa with our grandsons. Combining play and Iowa culture for children is a great way to help youngsters grow up. I think a revisit to the American Gothic House is a must when the grandsons get older.

On Monday the Natural Resources Committee heard a report on the Iowa deer herd. It seems the deer population in Iowa peaked in 2009 and the number of deer-vehicle collisions has gone down. We also discussed hunting deer over bait, a subject that was in the news recently. Generally, the public accepts hunting for food and sport as long as the hunting is not done solely for profit or trophy animals. Perhaps you recall the African controversy when a Minnesota dentist killed a trophy lion named Cecil after it was lured out of a game sanctuary.

Tuesday, we discussed community college student loans and default percentages. The student borrowing rates for community college students is 17 percent and for public four-year college students the borrowing rate is 48 percent. I was surprised to learn that the highest rates of default on loan payments are from community college students who borrowed the least and completed the fewest credits. The community college loan default rate is about 8 percent, when only 17 percent of those students borrowed in the first place. One of the most common reasons given for not paying off student loans was, “I didn’t know I needed to make a payment now and my family needs me working at once!”

In the Agriculture Committee we passed HSB561, a bill requested by the Cattlemen’s Association. It is largely a code cleanup bill. It does offer the option of an updated fee assessment desired by the Cattlemen.   A program was given by the Heartland Hemp Company about the advantages of growing industrial hemp. Hemp was grown in northern Iowa during World War II. When the war ended, manila rope again became available and the production ended.

The Environmental Protection Committee heard a report about Iowa’s Bottle Bill. I was surprised to learn that distributors receive an estimated $14 million each year from bottles that are not returned. Perhaps part of this money could be used to increase the 1 cent per bottle redemption centers receive or to improve the recycling of bottles and other recyclable items.

Wednesday was a flurry of activity with both subcommittee meetings and snow. In the Natural Resources Meeting we heard a presentation about the Iowa Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund, which primarily funds the Conservation and Recreation Division of the DNR. Hunting and fishing licenses plus associated equipment sales are the primary means of funding this division. This is unlike the funding of some of the surrounding states where sales tax or general fund money is used in the support of their DNR.

The improvement of the water quality in Iowa continues to be an important issue that is sure to be discussed and re-discussed in the halls of the Capitol and the coffee shops of Iowa. The big questions are how are we to fund the massive efforts necessary to solve the problems and do we have the resolve to continue our cleanup efforts for the long-term?

In an education subcommittee I refused to sign off on a bill that placed more unfunded mandates on local schools. I don’t think it is the job of the legislature to micromanage local school boards! The Education Committee continues to pass out bills. However, none of the bills deal with the big question of setting general school aid. Until school aid is determined local school boards are unable to set their budgets and a state of turmoil exists in school districts.

The Iowa Senate took action this week to increase basic state funding for public schools by 4% for the 2017-2018 school year. However, the measure was not taken up by the House majority party this week, meaning we will fail to set funding on time for the sixth year in a row. The yearly delays and anemic state investment in schools means high class sizes, outdated technology and old textbooks for kids in public schools.

Thursday we heard from the Iowa Board of Regents’ institutions. Some of the challenges at schools for the blind and the deaf include the retention and recruitment of faculty. Teaching blind and deaf children requires special training and a special calling. Many of the teaching staff are now in the autumn of their careers and will soon retire. It is also important that these teachers be located near families of the blind or deaf to offer opportunities for these children to become productive citizens.

The three Iowa universities reported their financial requests to the Education Appropriation Subcommittee. This year the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls enrolled 12,000, Iowa State University in Ames enrolled 36,000 and University of Iowa in Iowa City enrolled 32,000 students. Funding of the universities has not kept pace with inflation. The tuition of non-residents at the University of Iowa ($27,880) is used to subsidize the tuition rates of Iowa residents. At Iowa State University we have seen about $450 million of external funding. When a research professor leaves Iowa for another university, often millions of dollars of research money and fellowships (jobs) follow that professor to the new university.

A bi-partisan group of lawmakers is making another push to fix Iowa’s medical cannabis law that makes it nearly impossible for Iowans with debilitating conditions to obtain the cannabis oil prescription they need. The suggested changes would be very narrow in range and would only allow a small number of medical conditions to be prescribed cannabis oil. The bill would NOT include smoking or edible consumption of cannabis.

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