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February 26, 2015     N. Warren Town and County News
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Thursday, February 26, 2015 N/Warren Town and County News Page Fifteen Legislative Newsletter Stan Gustafson Iowa House Representative District 25 Guest of the Legislature: During the opening ceremonies of the House Thursday, Feb. 12, Jordan George, Norwalk, sang "God Bless America." Jordan is the daughter of Marketa Oliver and Ernest George and is a freshman at Norwalk High School. If you ever get a chance to hear this young lady sing, be sure to take advantage of it. She is a fantastic singer! Century and Heritage Farms: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey is en- couraging eligible farm owners to apply for the 2015 Century and Heritage Farm Program which is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stew- ardship and the Iowa Farm Bureau. This program recognizes families that have owned their farm for 100 years (Century) and 150 years (Heritage). Applications are avail- able on the Department's website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov by clicking on the Century Farm or Heritage Farm link under "Hot Topics." Farm families seeking to qualify must submit an application to the Department no later than June 1, 2015. HSB 62 was voted out of the Human Resource Committee this week. This Bill requires the Department of Human Services to contract with a vendor to provide real-time, computerized verification of assets for blind, disabled and aged Iowans covered by Medicaid and is a part of an effort to reduce fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicaid program. If passed into law, the new verification system will enable the contractor to search multiple financial institutions and return the data to DHS, re- ducing the amount of benefits paid out to people that do not qualify. School Start Date: I have gotten a lot of mail about the school start date issue. Iowa Code chapter 279.10 defines the beginning of the school year as not starting "sooner than a day during the calendar week in which the first day of September falls." Under the current law, the Department of Education may grant a waiver re- quest for a district to start earlier if starting during the first week of September would have a "significant negative educational impact." However, there is no definition for "significant negative educational impact" and it has been the practice for the Depart- ment to simply grant any waivers requested. The latest Department data shows that 336 of Iowa's 338 school districts were granted waivers to start early this school year. This topic was propelled into a large discussion last fall when Governor Branstad sent a letter to the Department of Education Director asking the department to make a change in the way it interprets Iowa law regarding start dates. The House Commit- tee on Education has moved forward on a bill changing the start date for Iowa's schools to August 23, requiring all schools to start on or after August 23 with no waiver provision. Part of the argument around this issue is the schedule of the Iowa State Fair and participation of 4-H and FFA students who show animals at the Fair and family vacations. However, the issue is more complicated than that. Iowa re- ceives its tax money from sales tax as well as income taxes, registration fees, etc. When people travel to the Fair, Living History Farms, Adventureland, Amana Colo- nies and other attractions in our State, they rent hotel rooms, eat in restaurants and purchase clothes and other things in our shopping malls and businesses. This gener- ates sales tax and pays the salaries of employees who work for those businesses. The ;. employees then pay taxes on their income, increasing the tax revenue of the State. Funnel Date: The Funnel Date, March 6, is fast approaching. This is the date that .Bills need to be passed out of House Committees in order to be debated on the floor. To date, over 350 Bills have been introduced to the House for consideration. If they are not passed by the assigned Committee, they will be dead for this session. You can check the status of a Bill at our Legislative website: www.legis.iowa.gov. Mixed Economic Indicators: In its latest release, the Department of Revenue's Iowa Leading Indicators Index showed modest growth in December 2014. The Index rose to 109.4 for the month, a slight hike over November's rating of 109.3. Creighton University's Iowa Business Conditions Index fell in January to 52.2, down from the 53.4 figure reported for December. While any number above 50 is viewed as indicat- ing economic growth, the Iowa index has fallen in six of the past nine months. USDA predicts that farm income will continue to fall from the 2012 highs, while input costs continue to creep up. The state's Revenue Estimating Conference will meet Thurs- day, March 19, at I p.m. The three-member panel will review and adjust the revenue estimates for FY 2015 and FY 2016. If the REC lowers the FY 2016 revenue forecast, the Legislature is bound to use the new revenue figure and the Governor is required by law to submit a revised budget. Zero-Based Budgeting Bill: The House State Government committee voted on HF 1 which requires agencies and departments, as well as the judicial branch, to adopt a zero-based budgeting approach. Currentl) they use estimates based on 75 percent of funding provided for the current fiscal year. With this bill, executive de- partments and the judicial branch will be required to use zero as their base approach when determining their budgets. Additionally, it requires the departments to priori- tize requested expenditures, with support as to why every request is needed. It is a useful tool to help the departments and agencies justify why they need the amounts they request and also helps with the budgeting process by helping legislators iden- tify the "low hanging fruit" should adjustments need to take place. It also prevents across the board cuts and provides an open and transparent process throughout. Online Schools Bill: The House approved HF204, allowing two school districts providing full-time online schools to continue to operate. By using Iowa's open en- rollment law, which allows students to get their education from a district outside of the district in which they live, hundreds of students from across the state have opted for full-time online education to meet their education needs. : Landfilling of Yard-Waste for Methane use: The House Environmental Protec- tion Committee passed House Study Bill 93, now House File 266; which amends the Iowa Code concerning the prohibition of landfilling of yard waste to allow the ! landfilling of yard-waste at a landfill that has an Environmental Protection Agency approval to use a methane collection system that produces energy. Currentl) yard- waste may be landfilled when yard wastes are delivered separated from other solid waste and is used for purposes of soil conditioning and composting; or is the result of collection of yard waste debris created by a severe storm in an area that has been declared a disaster area; or is collected for disposal as part of an insect-pest, or plant disease eradication effort or from invasive plant species control efforts where alter- native composting efforts would risk further spread of the pest, disease or invasive plant. Bill Banning Tanning for Minors: The House Human Resources committee passed House Study Bill 81 which bans tanning in a tanning salon for people under the age of 18. Bills Passed by the House: HF146; HF156; HF159; HF167; HF202; HF204; HF205. Forum: Senator Garrett and I will be attending a Forum at the Farmers and Mer- chants Bank in Winterset Saturda Feb. 28, at 9 a.m. Plan on attending if you are able. You can find my webpage under the "Our Members" tab at www.iowa houserepublicans.com. Senate News By State Senator Julian B. Garrett Julian.Garrett@legis.iowa.gov. Bills Advance School Funding. The Senate has passed an increase of 4% for education funding for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2015. The bill now goes back to the House that has passed a bill increasing funding nearly $100 million or 1.25%. School Start Date. The Senate and House Education Committees have passed bills having to do with school start dates. The Senate bill would leave the dates up to local school boards. The House bill provides that the school start date cannot be prior to August 23. The House bill provides for no waivers. I understand that the August 23 date is a compromise that has been agreed to by school officials, represen- tatives of the tourist industry and the fairs. Under the bill year-round school calen- dars would be permitted, but the start date would have to be no earlier than August 23. I would like an exception for year-round schools, but so far that is not part of the bill. Fuel Tax. Subcommittees in both the Senate and House passed bills to increase fuel taxes by 10 cents per gallon and to raise additional revenue through increases in various fees and charges. Legislative leaders in both chambers have said they will not bring the bills up for a vote unless a majority of Republicans and Democrats in each chamber support the increases. Those majorities may not be easy to obtain. Tax Coupling Both the Senate and House have passed tax coupling bills to make state tax law conform with changes in the federal tax law. This simplifies Iowa income tax returns because the bill makes most, but not all, deductions and exemptions the same as on federal tax returns. The exception is bonus depreciation. Of course, the tax rates on the Iowa returns are much less than on the federal return. Taxpayers and their tax preparers were on hold until this bill was passed. They can now prepare their Iowa returns. Girl Scouts I had the pleasure of visiting with several Girl Scouts from Norwalk and Cumming. Girl Scouts were "shadowing" female legislators for the day to learn more about the legislative process. Bills Advance Fireworks. The Senate State Government Committee has advanced a bill (SSB 1135) to allow the sale of consumer fireworks under regulation by the state Fire Marshal. Fuel Tax. Committees in both the Senate and House passed bills to increase fuel taxes by 10 cents per gallon and to raise additional revenue through increases in various fees and charges. The bills can now be brought up for votes on the floor of either chamber. Tanning Devices. Minors would be prohibited from using tanning devices under a bill (SF 40) passed by the Human Resources Committee, unless they have a doctor's prescription. Dense Breast Notification. Mammogram reports to women with dense breast tissue would have to notify them that they have dense breast tissue under SF 80. They would have to also be notified that for those with dense breast tissue, it may be difficult to detect cancer using a mammogram. They are advised to contact their doctor for more information. I was surprised to hear several women tell me that this information is not routinely given. Revenue Below Estimate Actual revenue for the current fiscal year is running below the estimate made by the Revenue Estimating Conference last December. By law the legislature is required to use the December estimates in putting together the budget unless the REC comes up with a lower estimate in March. In that case, the March estimate must be used. Though revenue is up over the prior fiscal year, the actual receipts are $100 million less than the revenue projections made in December. With increases in Medicaid that we are obligated to pa backfilling local governments for reduced property tax money and increased education spending, the Governor's proposed budget is already slightly in the red. We need to find cuts to bring spending below estimated revenues. If the March numbers come in $100 million or so less than the December estimates, we will need to look for additional reductions to get spending below the projected revenue. In spite of the decline in expected revenue, Democrats continue to advocate for even more spending, putting us further in the red. This is the philosophy that led to the raiding of trust funds and the rainy day fund before 2011, leading finally to the Cul- ver 10% across the board cut when their policies caught up with them and they found they didn't have the money to fund the budget they had passed. We don't want to go back to those days. Farm Bureau Leaders Farm Bureau leaders from Warren County and Madison County came to the Cap- itol Wednesda3 Feb. 18, to discuss the fuel tax bill that is making its way through the legislature. Upcoming Forum I will be at the Farmers & Merchants Bank in Winterset for a legislative forum with Representative Gustafson Saturda Feb. 28, at 9 a.m. The public is welcome q- and invited to ask questions or make comments on whatever is on their mind. ! Feel free to contact me with your ideas or concerns at Julian.Garrett @legis.iowa.gov. i