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Legislative Update 03/19/2015

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If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

George Washington

Legislative Update

Friends,

This week a great deal of my time on the Iowa House floor was spent debating and passing bills, as well as meeting with constituents who traveled to Des Moines.  Most of these concerned citizens came down to participate in various advocacy events.  Many came to express their concerns and/or thoughts over important issues facing our communities and be part of the solution.  It’s a very humbling and inspirational experience to witness the engagement of your fellow citizens fighting for what they believe in.

The Iowa House passed over twenty-five bills that will make their way to the Senate or the Governor's desk.  The bills we managed this week varied from those as simple as corrections to existing code to those as complex as changing the collective bargaining process for teachers and other school workers.

I continue the focus on the tenants in which I came to Des Moines; to promote smaller, smarter, and more efficient government.  A bill that I led through the House last week, known as the Medicaid Asset Verification Bill, will save our state over 18 million dollars in the first year.  We have also been working on programs that are funded and supported by our state that are unsustainable in their current form, one of which is the collective bargaining agreement for teachers and school staff.  I remain hopeful that the Iowa Senate and Governor Branstad will consider this common-sense solution that I believe will streamline a crucial component of our government.

In addition, I have co-sponsored a House Joint Resolution (HJR 11) which proposes an amendment to our Iowa State Constitution relating to an individual’s right to acquire, keep, posses, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms.  It is quite a shock to many people that our state constitution does not have a provision protecting Iowans’ second amendment rights.  Some feel as though the U.S. Constitution should be sufficient.  However, as has been demonstrated in other states, the U.S. Constitution may not play as critical a role in state laws.  This is a decisive bill which will guarantee our state citizens the right to bear arms. 

Furthermore, House Joint Resolution 8 (HJR 8) was passed early on Thursday.  That amendment calls for a Convention of the States to amend the Constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the Federal Government and limit the federal government's power and jurisdiction.  I am a co-signer of this bill and supported it the entire way through the process. 

Many of the bills we have passed in the Iowa House need your support in order to bring them to a vote in the Iowa Senate.  I implore you to make your voice heard in the democratically-controlled Senate.  These bills were generated from ideas created by you and some have no chance for further advancement unless people ask the Iowa Senate to take them up. 

In the upcoming weeks the House will be working on income tax relief in the state of Iowa.  The basics of the plan at this point would be to offer taxpayers two options.  The first option would consist of a flat tax at the rate of 5% of your income.  The second option would be a tax plan similar to what is being used currently but with only two tax brackets.  These two options would put the Iowa taxpayer in the driver’s seat and extend an alternative.  Furthermore, this enhancement would simplify an extremely complex tax system and afford many Iowans a tax break at the same time.  I look forward to the progression of this bill and on-going opportunities to help Iowa taxpayers keep their hard-earned dollars.

As always, I welcome your comments, thoughts and ideas so I can amplify our NW Iowa voices to the concrete of Des Moines.  I want to thank you for all the feedback thus far and ask you to keep it coming. 

With Warmest Regard,

Representative John H. Wills

 

Legislative Forums
 

March 21, 2015 

Spencer

9:00am-10:30am 

Council Chambers

420 2nd Ave. West
 

Okoboji 

11:30am-12:30pm

Pearson Lakes Art Center
2201 US HYW 71

March 28, 2015 
Rock Rapids
8:00am-9:30am
Forster Community Center
404 Main Street

Sibley
10:30am-11:30 am
Sibley Library
406 9th Street

Legislative Priorities

2015-16 House Republican Budget Principles
House Republicans are committed to these principles to produce a balanced and sustainable state budget:

  1. We will spend less than the state collects;
  2. We will not use one-time money to fund on-going needs;
  3. We will not balance the budget by intentionally underfunding programs; and
  4. We will return unused tax dollars to Iowa’s taxpayers.
What Organizations Does the State of Iowa Belong to? 
After last week’s examination of how much of the General Fund was being spent on organizational dues, some Iowans have asked what types of organizations does the state of Iowa belong to.  Here is a review of some of the groups receiving taxpayer money, as identified by the Legislative Services Agency last December.
 
LSA’s report to the Legislative Fiscal Committee points out some interesting situations where the state has multiple agencies making payments to the same organization.  Both the State Auditor’s office and the State Treasurer’s office paid $3600 to the National Association of State Auditors.  They each have paid $3700 in FY 2015 to this group.  The Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship paid $500 to the National Institute For Animal Agriculture in FY 2014.  That is the same amount paid by the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Services.  And both the Department of Administrative Services and Department of Public Health paid $1000 to the Wellness Council of Iowa in 2014. 
 
Organizational dues are sometimes funded out of multiple accounts in a single agency.  An example of this is the Department of Education’s payments to the Council of State Chief School Officers.  Beyond the General Fund, three separate accounts were tapped to pay this organization.  In total, the Department paid the Council of State Chief School Officers $211,300 in FY 2014.
 
The Fiscal Committee report also discloses the difference in cost between similar bodies.  For example, the state Banking Superintendent paid $93,027 to the Conference of State Bank Supervisors in Fiscal Year 2014.  In the same year, the Superintendent of Credit Unions paid just $8,620 to the National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors.
 
State agencies have made payments to state organizations that lobby the Legislature.  Examples of these would include the Alcoholic Beverages Division which made payments to the Iowa League of Cities.  The Iowa Economic Development Authority paid $1500 to the Professional Developers of Iowa in 2014 and $300 to the Iowa Wind Energy Association.  And the Department of Transportation paid the Iowa Bicycle Coalition $1000 that same year.
 
Membership in local chambers of commerce is another popular choice for many state agencies.  In Fiscal Year 2014, the Department of Administrative Services paid $235 to the Des Moines West Side Chamber of Commerce.  The Department for the Blind paid $225 to the Des Moines East and South Chamber.  Vocational Rehabilitative Services made payments to eleven different chambers groups across the state.  Both the Department of Natural Resources and Iowa Workforce Development have made payments to a number of chambers across Iowa over the past few years.
 
Another type of group frequently listed in the LSA report are national organizations of professional licensing boards.  The Department of Commerce’s Professional Licensing Division and the Department of Public Health made payments in FY 2014 to numerous licensing groups ranging from the Association of Appraiser Regulatory Officials to the National Association of Barber Boards of America.
 
One organization that is frequently mentioned by some in the Capitol is the American Legislative Exchange Council.  In FY 2014, the state paid nothing to this group.  In fact, a payment to ALEC by the state of Iowa has not happened since Fiscal Year 2011 when the Legislature paid $6400.  That is significantly smaller than the $153,427 paid that year to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
 
Iowans can review the full 20 page list of organizations (organized by agency) at this link:  https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/IH/563044.pdf
 
Reviewing the exhaustive list of organizations the state is paying raises several questions.  What is the policy to determine which groups the state will pay organizational dues to?  Is there a policy to ensure that the state is not making multiple payments to one organization when one would be sufficient?  And, is there an analysis to determine what value, if any, Iowa taxpayers are receiving for the payments to these groups?
 
House Ways and Means Passes $520 Million Income Tax Cut for Iowa Taxpayers 
This week the House Ways and Means Committee passed House Study Bill 215 out of committee with a vote of 13-11. The bill provides for an alternative income tax system with a 5 percent flat rate on all taxable income. It also provides for an increased standard deduction as compared to the current system as well as a complete exemption of all pension income from income tax. The result is a $521.4 million tax savings for Iowans.
  
The bill establishes a new calculation of base income. The calculation will start from the same place as the current system—Federal Adjusted Gross Income. From that number, the taxpayer makes the following adjustments:
 
  • Subtract the standard deduction ($6,235/$12,470). This is more than triple the current system’s standard deduction ($1,920/$4,740).
  • Subtract interest and dividends from federal securities (federal law).
  • Subtract the amount of social security benefits taxable under section 86 of the Internal Revenue Code.
  • Subtract the total amount of a governmental or other pension or retirement income including defined benefit or defined contribution plans, annuities, IRAs, plans maintained or contributed to by an employer, and deferred compensation plans or any earnings attributable to the deferred compensation plans. The current system does not provide for this full exemption of pension income—with the exception of military pensions. The current system provides for an exclusion of the first $6,000/$12,000 of pension income.
After these adjustments are made—a tax of 5 percent is imposed on the balance (base income). The bill also provides that if a taxpayer makes the election for the alternative flat tax system—the taxpayer will not be able to claim any refundable or nonrefundable credits allowed in the current system with the exception of credits for withheld tax and estimated tax paid.

House Study Bill 215 states that the elderly taxpayer filing thresholds of $24,000 and $32,000 apply to the alternative flat tax system. The bill is retroactive to January 1, 2015 for tax year 2015 and beyond.
 
House Republicans continue to support a flatter, fairer, and simpler income tax system for Iowans. This legislation provides the opportunity for Iowans to choose the income tax system that gives them the greatest benefit. There are no losers—only winners. House Study Bill 215 now moves to the House floor for further consideration.


House Passes Binding Arbitration Changes for School Districts and AEAs 
After two days of debate, the House passed House File 549, which narrowly changes the binding arbitration process for school district and Area Education Agency (AEA) employees.  The bill makes three small, yet very significant changes to what an arbitrator is allowed to consider when rendering a decision on union contracts.
 
For too long the scale of fairness has been tilted in favor of labor and against taxpayers during contract negotiations for school districts and AEAs.  School boards and their negotiating teams have been forced to build 3-4% yearly raises into their budgets, regardless of district revenues, putting a financial strain on districts.  House File 549 seeks to remedy this problem and even the playing field in labor negotiations for teachers.  The three changes that the bill would make are solely focused on school districts and AEAs as a cost-containment measure.
 
First, an arbitrator no longer is required to pick one or the other of the two parties’ final offers on an item when there’s an impasse.  Instead, the arbitrator is authorized to choose a point between the two offers.  This ensures that a compromise position can be reached where both sides can come away from negotiations happy.
 
Second, an arbitrator is no longer able to consider the public employer’s authority to levy taxes to finance an increase in compensation packages.  Unions point to government’s unlimited ability to raise taxes as the basis for pay increases beyond what current revenues can afford. 
 
Third, an arbitrator is required to look at a comparison of public and private sector wages, hours, and conditions of employment for workers doing comparable work to get a true and fair comparison.  Current law only requires an arbitrator to look at a comparison of other public sector workers. 
 
During debate Democrats filed numerous amendments, all of which were not germane to the bill.  Six of the amendments expanded the scope of negotiations to include class sizes, teacher prep time, overtime, classroom-expense reimbursements, continuing education costs, and the costs associated with renewing licenses.  Another amendment set State Supplemental Aid at 4%, and another dealt with a school financing issue.  Additionally, one Democrat offered an amendment which he then divided into 16 separate amendments, mostly reversing the changes in House File 549, and then adding numerous other factors that an arbitrator must consider when rendering a decision.
 
After several hours of debate and five Democrat caucuses, the bill finally passed on a party-line vote of 56-41.  House File 549 now heads to the Iowa Senate where it faces an uncertain future.

 

News from Around the District

The Ritz Again on the Top Ten List for Iowa's Best Burger
                                           

The Ritz in Arnold's Park has again made the top ten list of Iowa's Best Burgers in the Iowa Cattlemen's annual contest.

Rick Genrich, Co-owner of The Ritz says, their burger is based on a family tradition. He notes that judges will be making the rounds in coming weeks to sample the top ten burgers in the state.

Iowans submitted more than 4,000 nominations for the honor.  Iowa's Best Burger will be announced May 4.

(Article from Explore Okoboji.com)

Environmental Protection & Natural Resources

Collaboration, Not Litigation, is Key to Continued Water Quality Gains 

Iowa water quality is certainly a hot topic. Iowa farmers have been focused on the issue, but the potential Des Moines Water Works lawsuit has brought new attention to the topic.  The move by the Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) to file a lawsuit against drainage districts in three northwest Iowa counties shows a lack of understanding of the complexity of non-point water issues.

DNR Director: Enforcement Difficult if Water Lawsuit is Successful 
On Tuesday, March 17, 2015, the state Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) met in Windsor Heights, at the State DNR office there and at that meeting DNR Director Gipp made comments concerning the lawsuit between Des Moines Water Works and three northwest Iowa counties and noted that it boils down to whether the water coming from the tile drainage districts is considered groundwater or surface water.  The crux of the situation is that if a court decides it is groundwater and consequently a point-source of pollution because it discharges from a pipe into a regulated water, it would require a permit under federal law.  DNR Director Gipp noted that it would be difficult to implement. 
 
Agricultural stormwater discharge, seen as coming from many different sources, is now explicitly exempted from the federal Clean Water Act; as is irrigation return water which in many instances is also removed by subsurface drainage tiles.  The Des Moines Water Works utility officially filed its lawsuit against Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties Monday, March 16, 2015. The lawsuit alleges the water from the counties’ drainage districts “contain high nitrate concentrations that are almost entirely groundwater and that pollution has since 1995 required the utility to operate its nitrate removal equipment 673 days with a recent spate of 97 days consecutive days.  The utility alleges that drainage tiles used to make farmland more productive “short-circuits natural conditions that otherwise keep nitrates from entering streams and rivers” and contributes to high levels of nitrates that make their way into the Raccoon River. It seeks damages, penalties and other relief in federal court.
 
While about 500,000 central Iowa residents rely on the Raccoon River for drinking water, and the reported cost to operate the nitrate removal equipment is reportedly  ~$7,000 (though if one calculates the reported $540,000 over 97 days it comes to just under $5,600 per day) this expense amounts over the last 20 years to about just under $5-million or $250,000 per year or less on average of 50-cents per person per year.  In contrast, the likely expense or lost income to farmers to treat 100% of the water which the utility uses less than 1%; is at least 100 times more costly and may even be a magnitude higher (approaching 1,000 times more costly).
 
Director Gipp has indicated that he expects the lawsuit could take up to a decade to be resolved and would likely make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  He was quoted in a Des Moines Register article published on March 18, 2015, that: “This is a hugely impactful case, no matter where you are on the issue.”
 
See the lawsuit here.

 

IWiLL Update
 

Many people have been sending me messages and calling me in regards to a proposal in the Senate which raises taxes to fill up a constitutionally-protected fund that was set up 4 years ago with money to be spent on conservation.  While this measure is not before the House, I wanted to share my perspective on this proposal with you.

I have worked in the conservation field for 17 years.  I have helped, mostly farmers, conduct voluntary, private lands conservation over those years.  The number one issue that I have dealt with is the availability of money.  In addition, Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy will work, if there is adequate funding for it.  This, again, is voluntary, private lands conservation at its best. 

So, where do I stand?  I support the constitutionally-protected fund, but would like to see some changes.  First, we need to look at the funding categories and how much money is provided for private lands conservation.  Second, I would like to see a net neutral funding mechanism.  I feel these criteria balance both the needs of taxpayers and the needs for conservation and are the only way the additional funding mechanism has a chance of passing through both the House and the Senate at this time.   

 

Tour of Our District

Kettleson Hogsback

The name of this site comes from the linear plateau which resembles the ridge between the shoulders of a hog. Walk the 3 mile trail along the hog's back and see evidence of the glacier that rested here more than 10,000 years ago.

Check out this excellent birding site with nearly 300 species recorded!

Geological History

A Hogsback is a linear ridge composed of steeply tilted hard and soft rock protruding out of the surrounding landscape. The soft rock erodes faster than the capping harder rock above. A cliff forms where the two different rock types meet. The steep side slopes are greater than 30-40 degrees, and must be nearly symmetrical on each ridge. This hogsback rises 40 feet and separates Marble Lake from Hottes Lake.

Location Description

This site has shallow lakes, marshes, uplands, and woods, making it a great wildlife viewing site due to its variety. Waterfowl, Shorebirds, Gulls, Pelicans, Grebes, Osprey and 28 species of Warblers have been seen here. Also look for Vireos, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Great-crested Flycather and migrating thrush in the spring and fall. Great Blue Heron and Black-crowned Night Heron have nested at Grover's Lake on the far north end of the Kettleson Hogsback area. Take special note of the Great Blue Heron rookery on the island at Hottes Lake.

Hottes Lake is an excellent site for canoeing and kayaking, an opportunity to get closer to wildlife.

The trail is great for cross-country skiing or a snowshoe hike. Get out in the winter and see the hog from a different perspective!

State of Iowa Fun Fact

Up Up and Away

Spend some time floating away with the National Balloon Museum in Indianola. This museum covers over 200 years of ballooning history and is an educational stopping point for children of all ages. This is one of the interesting facts about Iowa that can actually help you plan a great vacation in the state.

Tour of The Iowa State Capitol


 LIBRARY

It's been called the most beautiful room in America by ABC News Anchor, Dan Rather.  The Law Library of the State Capital is definitely worth the view.  The builders of the Capital stated "After visiting various buildings in the East and viewing cramped conditions of most libraries...we deem it best to dispense with committee rooms designed to be built over the library room and make the whole space into one large room 52 X 108 feet and 45 feet high, with five tiers of shelving...a small increase in cost, but  room of elegant proportions". 

There is stunning and intricate iron grill work, graceful spiral staircases, beautifully reproduced light fixtures, patterned tile floors, stained glass skylight, and innumerable volumes to amaze visitors to this Law Library.  

Map of the Week

The map of the week is of the Average Daily Local Jail Population - 2012 document published location:

The map can be found here

Quick Links

Governor Branstad

 

Iowa Judicial Branch

 

Iowa Legislature

 

 Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey

 

Secretary of State Paul Pate

 

  State Auditor Mary Mosiman

 

State Senator David Johnson

 

State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald

 

U.S. Representative Steve King

 

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

 

Visitors to the Capitol

Wills Hosts Local REC Members 

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) met local REC members at the Capitol this week. The group visited the Statehouse to attend REC Day on the Hill. 
Pictured here are Jeff TenNapel and Kermit DeBoam with Rep. Wills.

Wills Hosts Local REC Members

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) met with Lyon REC members at the Capitol this week. The group visited the Statehouse to attend REC Day on the Hill.
Pictured here are David DeBore, Rep. Wills, Ross Loomans, Dale Klinken Dorg, and Mark Wibben.

Wills Hosts Family Members

Rep. John Wills and his wife were happy to host Brooke Player and Zach Player on March 19th.  Brooke is Cami's sister from Omaha and Zach is Cami's nephew (Brooke's son). 

Pictured here are Brooke Player, Zach Player, John Wills, and Cami Wills. 

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