Legislative Update 2/26/2015

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State Representative

"Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives."  Ronald Reagan

Legislative Update

This week at the statehouse, debate was once again dominated with school funding.   Additionally, the legislature addressed the issue of road funding.  While I’ve been clear that I’ve supported funding for our K-12 schools that provides an unprecedented amount of funding, but also keeps the taxpayers in mind, I’ve not yet discussed in my newsletter the issue of road funding.

The issue of raising the gas tax to make up for shortfalls in the state’s infrastructure funding obviously predates my time in the Iowa House.  I’ve been told that it’s been discussed for more than a decade; numerous proposals tossed around – almost all politically charged. 
After being elected, I heard from many that the needs were great when it came to the state’s infrastructure so I immediately went to work, reviewing all the options available.  The option I was most supportive of was House Joint Resolution 5, which would take the first half cent of sales tax already collected and send it directly to the Road Use Tax Fund.  This option provided the needed funds to fix our roads, yet prioritized state spending and did not put any additional burdens on the tax payer.
This bill, along with several other ideas, did not receive the majority of support to move through the process.  So I went back to the drawing board.  After spending a great deal of time talking with many constituents from across the district, legislators, and friends, I found there really is no quick fix, which is why the state has been dealing with this issue for so long.
Ronald Reagan stated in 1983 that, “infrastructure is an essential function of government” and our infrastructure here in Iowa is crumbling indeed.  Due to Ronald Reagan’s statement I decided our state must not put this vital discussion off any longer.
Just this week, The American Society of Civil Engineers provided an infrastructure report titled “2015 Report Card, A Call to Action for Iowa’s Infrastructure,” which rated Iowa’s roads and bridges as a C- and a D+ respectively.  In short, we need to fix our roads and bridges to prevent further degradation and we need to do it now!  
Raising taxes is never easy and this issue weighed heavily on me.  You did not elect me to shirk from decisions, even the tough ones.  While it was not easy, today I supported raising the gas tax because I believe we need to address the issue of fixing our state’s infrastructure, a fundamental duty of government.   Was this the perfect bill that I would have written?  No.  But it is the only proposal that was able to gain consensus through the makeup of the legislature.  And I believe it does act as a stop gap to fix the immediate problem.  I have already begun working on ways to fix the system so in six years, when this tax is reviewed, we can eliminate it completely. 
I will also spend the rest of the session looking for ways to cut out waste in government and for other ways to save taxpayers’ money; whether through tax cuts or income tax reductions. 
I appreciate all the feedback I’ve received from many of you, and I hope you’ll keep the input coming.  It’s an honor to serve you and be your voice in Des Moines. 

With Warmest Regard,


Legislative Forums

February 28, 2015
Rock Rapids
Forster Community Center
404 Main Street

March 7, 2015 



Council Chambers

420 2nd Ave. West 

Spirit Lake


Bedell Family YMCA
1900 41st Street


March 21, 2015 



Council Chambers

420 2nd Ave. West

Arnolds Park 


Maritime Museum
243 Broadway Street

March 28, 2015 
Rock Rapids
Forster Community Center
404 Main 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
School Funding Bill Heads to Conference Committee
Senate Files 171 and 172, setting school aid for the FY16 (2015/16 school year) were sent to conference committee this week to find a final compromise.   The Senate is proposing a 4% growth amount, while the House, and the Governor, has advocated for 1.25%.
The House originally passed school aid bills nearly 4 weeks ago, passing House File 80 and 81 which both set school aid growth at 1.25%.  The Senate chose to ignore those bills for several weeks and instead sent over their own 4% proposals just last week.
The House continues to support a 1.25% proposal, which would provide an additional $100 million in state dollars going to the K-12 education system next year.  In this figure is included $50 million for the state’s new Teacher Leadership Compensation (TLC) system designed to fundamentally change how teachers cooperate and grow in their profession.  Additionally, just under $6 million of the funding will provide property tax relief to millions of Iowans.
The House proposal continues the legislature’s trend of providing significant increases to the state’s K-12 system, bringing the 5 year total increase to over $570 million, a nearly 22% increase.
While state revenues increased this year providing the legislature money to increase some appropriations for FY16, a number of built-in expenses and prior commitments via legislative action in past years leaves around $200 million available for additional expenditures for the upcoming year.  The House proposal, which fits in line with the Governor’s proposal, for school funding for next year would spend half of that new available revenue on the state’s K-12 education system. 

News from Around the District

Girls basketball state pairings

Congratulations to the following Girls Basketball teams who are heading to State!
Class 1A: Central Lyon
Class 2A: Unity Christian
Class 2A: Western Christian
Class 3A:  Spirit Lake

Environmental Protection &
Natural Resources

Nominations for Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Awards Sought 

On Tuesday, February 24, 2015, the Office of the Governor issued a press release in which Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey encouraged Iowans to nominate farmers for the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award.  The award goes to farmers who have taken voluntary actions to improve or protect the environment and natural resources of our state.  Nominations are due by June 15, 2015 and the nomination form can be found at  The award is a joint effort between the Governor, Lt. Governor, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources to recognize the efforts of Iowa’s farmers as environmental leaders committed to healthy soils and improved water quality. 
Farmers that are nominated should have made environmental stewardship a priority on their farm and incorporated best management practices into their farming operation.  As true stewards of the land, they recognize that improved water quality and soil sustainability reaps benefits that extend beyond their fields to citizens of Iowa and residents even further downstream.  Nominations may be submitted on a year-round basis and are due by June 15th of the year to be considered for the award. Farm owners and operators are eligible for consideration. 
An appointed committee of representatives from both conservation and agricultural groups will review the nominations and select the winners.  The recipients will be recognized at the Iowa State Fair.  Since creation of the award in 2012, 219 farm families have been recognized.  Winners are presented a certificate as well as a yard sign donated by Monsanto.  Hagie Manufacturing also sponsors a recognition luncheon for award recipients following the ceremony.

Tour of Our District

Known first as one of the sites of the 1857 "Spirit Lake Massacre" and later as one of Iowa's first tourist attraction, the Gardner Cabin survives as a reminder of one of Iowa's tragic frontier events. Here you can learn the dramatic stories of Abbie Gardner and the Dakota leader, Inkpaduta. The State Historical Society of Iowa owns and preserves the Gardner Cabin and Museum. The cabin is listed on the National Register of Historic Places


Compared with the rest of the state, European-American settlement came late to northwest Iowa, where settlers faced isolation and harsh frontier living conditions. The Dakota Indian nation had for years led a successful hunting and gathering way of life in the same area. Relations between the original inhabitants and the new settlers were usually peaceful, but there was little friendship as the two groups competed for the land and its resources. One of the few violent conflicts between European Americans and Native Americans occurred at Arnolds Park and became known as "The Spirit Lake Massacre."

Left out of the 1851 treaty negotiations that transferred north-western Iowa from the Dakota nation to the United States, Dakota leader Inkpaduta refused to recognize the treaty restrictions. Early on, he became a scapegoat for some of the tensions between the new settlers and the original inhabitants. Between 1853 and 1856, he was involved in several conflicts with settlers, including Henry Lott, who killed several members of Inkpaduta's band. Government officials recognized that Lott had started the problems, but refused to apprehend him. During the winter of 1856-57, Inkpaduta's band traveled north from Smithland, Iowa, arriving at Lake Okoboji in March 1857 in search of food.

The Gardner family came to Lake Okoboji in July 1856 from New York. Because it was too late in the season to plant and harvest crops, the family brought enough food to last the winter months. They managed to build one cabin by winter, but weather prevented them from finishing a second. At the time of the massacre, Rowland Gardner, his wife, a son, two daughters, a son-in-law, and two grandchildren occupied the Gardner Cabin. A third daughter was in Springfield, Minnesota at the time of the massacre.

By late winter in 1856, both the settlers and Inkpaduta's people were running out of supplies. Tensions ran high as Inkpaduta's people tried unsuccessfully to get food from the settlers. Finally, on March 8, anger turned into violence. Over several days, Inkpaduta's band killed 33 settlers and abducted four women, including Abbie Gardner. No one recorded the Dakota's losses. After the Okoboji attack, Inkpaduta's band travelled north, unsuccessfully attacked Springfield, Minnesota settlers, and then fled west to the Dakotas where they killed two of the four captives. Later that spring, Inkpaduta released Abbie and another Okoboji captive after ransom was paid by Indian Agents from Minnesota.

After the uprising, Inkpaduta's reputation grew to mythic proportions partly because he eluded capture. He spent several years in the Dakotas skirmishing with the U.S. Army, and was reported to have been present at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Inkpaduta eventually moved to Canada where he died in 1881.After her release, Abbie Gardner joined her sister in Hampton, Iowa. In August 1857, she married Cassville Sharp. They raised two children before separating sometime in the 1880s.

Returning to Arnolds Park in 1891, Abbie purchased the cabin, operating it as one of Iowa's first tourist attractions until her death in 1921. For a quarter, or ten cents for children, visitors could see the displays in her log cabin museum and listen to her stories of the Spirit Lake Massacre, her captivity, and rescue. In her later years Abbie forgave the Native Americans and even developed a lifelong interest and admiration for Native-American culture. She collected many examples of Native-American artifacts which she displayed in her museum located in the log cabin. She collected pipestone from southwestern Minnesota and brought it back to Arnolds Park where she commissioned her neighbors to carve miniature replicas of the Spirit Lake Monument (dedicated in 1895). She sold these replicas as souvenirs in her museum shop. As part of her tourist business, Abbie Gardner- Sharp sold her book, The Spirit Lake Massacre, postcards, and other souvenirs.

Abbie died in Colfax, Iowa, in 1921, leaving the cabin to her son and daughter-in-law, Albert and Mary Sharp. They sold it to the Iowa Conservation Commission in 1941.

The Gardner Cabin has undergone many changes since it was built in 1856. Unlike the other cabins, the Gardner Cabin was still intact after the massacre. It was purchased by Philander Prescott, who later sold it to Samuel Pillsbury. Until 1891, when Abbie Gardner-Sharp purchased it, the cabin had been enlarged with shed additions and a second story. To enhance the cabin's tourist potential, Abbie added a framework and lattice to hide the cabin from view by non-paying visitors. The Iowa Conservation Commission later removed the lattice. After the cabin was transferred to the State Historical Society in 1974, architects and archaeologists conducted research and decided to return the cabin to resemble its 1856 appearance. The State Historical Society placed a portion of the contents of Abbie Gardner-Sharp's tourist museum in the visitors center and transferred the rest of the items to the Dickinson County Historical Society in Spirit Lake. The cabin is now furnished with pioneer artifacts gathered by Abbie Gardner-Sharp.

State of Iowa Fun Fact

Sheldon High School
Sheldon High School Summer Theatre (Sheldon, IA) is the only high school repertory in Iowa.  Created in 1972, it is one of just a few in the nation and presents a different play for each week in June and July.

  • Open June-July
  • Accessible to Persons with Disabilities
  • Admission Fee
  • Motorcoach Parking

Map of the Week

The map of the week is of the Student Proficiency Rates in Reading 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 Farm Bureau Members

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) met with several Farm Bureau members at the Capitol this week. Leo Stephas from Clay County, Mark Bohner from Plymouth County, Ross Kooiker from Lyon County, Ellwood Johnson from Dickinson County, and Chris Wynia from Osceola County Farm Bureau visited the Statehouse to talked with legislators about issues concerning their organization. 

Pictured here are several Farm Bureau members with Rep. Wills.

Wills Hosts Constituents

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) met with Bruce and Jeri Goodell from Lake Park at the Capitol this week. The two visited the Statehouse to discuss medical cannabis with legislators.  

Pictured here are Bruce and Jeri Goodell with Rep. Wills.

Happy Birthday to my Dad!

This month marks my Dad, Lyle Wills', birthday and I wanted to honor him and his brothers (who are triplets) Uncle Lorn and Uncle Lyle (who has passed).  Though both of my parents are supportive and caring, my father has been an especially strong influence.   If not for his hard work, support and sacrifice, I would not be where I am today.  Happy Birthday Dad !  I love you dearly. -John

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