District 72 Update-Rep. Dean Fisher
April 19, 2013
Week thirteen of the session is done. Work on the four major issues still before the legislature is moving forward, albeit slowly. These four issues are: the budget, property tax reform, education reform, and medical care for poverty level citizens (Healthy Iowa Plan vs. Medicare Expansion). The Budget The House is still waiting for the Senate to send over their appropriations bills and to act on the House passed appropriations bills. They are starting to be sent over slowly. The House target is for 3% spending growth over last year, which holds us at 98% of December revenue, while maintaining our commitment to the four budgeting principles of: spending less than we take in, not using one time funds for ongoing expenses, not intentionally underfunding programs in order to balance the budget, and returning unused funds back to the taxpayers. The Senate target is for 11% spending growth, nearly $500 million increase over last year, an unconscionable increase in long term obligations that depends on one-time funds that should be returned to the taxpayers instead of spent. Next week I will be dealing with one Senate budget bill in subcommittee, Senate File 435, Agriculture and Natural Resources appropriations. The Senate sent this bill over with $28 million in additional spending over last year. I will be adhering to the above budgeting principles in this subcommittee. Property Tax Reform Property tax reform discussions are ongoing. The House version, House File 609, is a combination of the Governor’s plan to reduce commercial property taxes by 20%, and the House plan to reduce all classes of property tax by increasing the General Fund share of the School Aid Foundation funding. The Senate plan, Senate File 295, yet to be passed out of the Senate, offers property tax relief for commercial property with tax credits for the first $342,000 of valuation. It is likely that these bills will be referred to a conference committee. Education Reform The House and Senate Education Reform bills were sent to conference committee last week. The committee is made up of 10 legislators: three House Republicans, two House Democrats, three Senate Democrats, two Senate Republicans. This committee may consider provisions in either bill but they may not consider new provisions. The resulting bill is then sent to both chambers for an up or down vote with no amendments possible. On Wednesday, April 10, the Republicans in this committee put forth a proposal with three main points: 1. Accept House File 215, the House Education Reform bill that includes Teacher Career Ladder, starting salary of $32,000, 2% Allowable Growth for Fiscal Year 2014, and four provisions that will help Home School families and Private Schools, among other accountability provisions. 2. Provide additional one-time money in Fiscal Year 2014 to our public schools equal to 2% (Approximately $120 per pupil). 3. Fiscal Year 2015 Allowable Growth of 4%. This proposal is significant because it will provide for much needed education reforms such as the career ladder for teachers, provide the funding our school administrators are asking for, and it also provides significant changes for our Home Schoolers and Private Schools. I am hopeful the Senate will accept this plan and school districts can have resolution on these issues. Healthy Iowa Plan Late last week Governor Branstad released his Healthy Iowa Plan that is targeted to help Iowans that are at 100% of the poverty level of income or lower. This is House Study Bill 232. This plan would provide health care for nearly 90,000 Iowans. It will replace the Iowa Cares plan that expires December 31st. The Healthy Iowa plan will allow members to obtain health care within 30 miles or 30 minutes of their home, a significant improvement over Iowa Cares. It also requires co-pays for those with some income, so that there is some equity in the system. It provides incentives for people to engage in healthy behavior, such as annual physicals, smoking cessation, etc. —incentives that Medicaid does not have. It also provides for more realistic compensation for ambulance trips, a benefit to our Emergency Medical Services providers. In some cases, Medicaid now pays as low as $16.75 for an ambulance trip, a ridiculously low amount that impacts our small town EMS services. These are just a few of the benefits the Healthy Iowa Plan offers Iowans. The Healthy Iowa Plan is in contrast to Senate File 296, which implements Medicaid Expansion as called for in the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid expansion would obligate Iowans to the antiquated federal system with little or no control over coverage and costs by Iowans. The federal government claims it will pay 100% of the cost for Medicaid Expansion over the first three years and 90% after that. It is not wise to obligate Iowans to this antiquated plan with no history of being able to exit once we are in. Sticking to Principles On Monday the House approved House File 625, a bill which gives tax credits to individuals and companies that donate to scholarships for low-income, private school students. This bill increases the cap on these donations from $8.5 million this past year to $12 million next year. In the last school year, over 9,200 students benefited from this program. It has minimal impact on the taxpayers as well, as this money is actually provided by the donors and not the taxpayers. The state simply provides the donor with a tax break on the donation, foregoing revenue that is only a portion of the $12 million cap. I was delighted to be able to vote yes on this bill because it will benefit our local private schools, such as the Clemons Lutheran School, and others. One other issue that is very important that we pass is House File 605, the Farm Recreation Liability bill. I have gotten a lot of constituent calls and emails on this issue. This bill deals with the Iowa Supreme Court’s ill-considered decision in the case of Sallee vs. Stewart earlier this year in which they overturned decades of law and precedent. Previously, Iowa law had indemnified farmers that allowed their land to be used for recreational use such as hunting, fishing, school tours, etc. In Sallee, the Supreme Court ruled very narrowly that the law only indemnified the farmer if the land was open to the general public for use, not just for specific persons given permission to use the land. In Sallee, a farmer was sued because a chaperone with a school group fell in a hay mow and was injured. House File 605 states clearly that the law is meant to be taken broadly, abrogating the Supreme Court’s decision. Without this bill, farmers may have to restrict access to their land for hunting, fishing, school tours, and many other uses. Closing Comments The evening of Wednesday, April 10, I had the honor of participating in the Legislative Memorial Service held in the Senate chambers. This event honors legislators that have passed on . It was a beautiful service; the “Capitol Choir” did an excellent job. I participated as a reader, reading a brief obituary for three of the 25 legislators honored while a candle was lit in their honor, including for Senator John Soorholtz of Melbourne who passed away this past year, one of my constituents. Senator Soorholtz, a Republican, served from 1983 to 1992. Coming up soon is the Iowa Call to Prayer Day, Tuesday, April 16 at the Iowa State Capitol from 12:00 - 1:00 PM. You can join your national and state elected leaders as we stand together in prayer with fellow Iowans. You can also add your name to the historic Call to Prayer Proclamation. The next Marshalltown Chamber Legislative Forum is scheduled for Friday, April 19, at noon at the Fisher Community Center in Marshalltown. I will also be on KFJB radio at 12:45pm that day in a taped interview from earlier that morning. I would encourage you all to come visit me at the capitol during session. Monday afternoons through Thursdays are best for a visit. Please call or email me ahead so I can be sure to greet you and personally show you the House Chamber and take you on a tour up to the top of the dome. We can also arrange a guided tour of this stunningly beautiful building that is “The Peoples House.” As always, I look forward to hearing from you, and I look forward to seeing you around the district, or down here at the capitol.
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