Legislative Update 2/16/17

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Quote of the Week

“If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.” 
 ~Abraham Lincoln

Legislative Update

Wow, what a week.  This was a week that put my years of experience and training to stay focused and levelheaded.  This week was an emotional one for so many people and I understand the issues.  This week we passed the bill that does some changes to collective bargaining in the State.  There were many fallacies and mistruths that were spread about this bill that lead to much consternation.  It was one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life because so many of my friends and family were affected.

I truly believe that this bill is the right thing for taxpayers and for our state and I truly believe the bill will not affect our state, city, and county employees and our teachers to the level in which they have been told.  Here is what the bill in its final form will do and does do:

More local control and flexibility
House File 291 is supported by numerous local officials including school board members, county supervisors, city council members, superintendents and community college leaders.  HF 291 will give locally elected officials more flexibility and control

Local officials are elected by their local voters to address the issues before those communities.  Greater flexibility for school boards, city councils, mayors and boards of supervisors, along with state government officials, allows for more effective allocation of resources.  Changing the mandated items that must be bargained for allows management the ability to actually manage.

Taxpayers shouldn’t be the collection agent for government unions
Government unions should collect their dues from their members.  If a government union has won the right to collectively bargain, it is completely reasonable to expect them to collect their own dues instead of having their employer do it for them.  The government and taxpayers shouldn’t be responsible for collecting the union’s dues.

Rewarding the best employees
House File 291 gives local governments the ability to recruit and reward exceptional employees while making it easier to get rid of bad ones.

Rewarding good employees and removing poor performing employees is a key change that needs to be made.  Currently it can take up to 3 years to terminate an ineffective teacher.  That is a disservice to taxpayers, parents and students.  The system should be built to protect exceptional employees instead of shielding poor performing ones.

Listening to Iowans
House Republicans have listened to Iowans during the subcommittee and committee process, at the public hearing, at forums across the state, and through the many emails and phone calls received over the course of session.  During this process, a number of items were brought to our attention that needed to be addressed. 

Because of these constructive conversations, House Republicans have proposed an amendment that addresses many concerns people have had over House File 291.
When asked what kind of compromise public employee unions would accept in regards to Chapter 20, both the Presidents of the ISEA and AFSCME refused to answer the question.  This is likely because they understand the current system in place works to their benefit, demonstrating the need for reform.

What does the amendment do?
Reinstates proper cause for suspensions and discharges.
Removes some items from the list of prohibited topics of negotiation:
  • Grievance procedures
  • Seniority and any benefits related to seniority
  • Release time
  • Reinstates the right to appeal a civil service commission’s decision to district court.  Requires the court to give deference to the commission’s ruling.
  • Fixes a drafting error that could have affected firefighter and police pensions.
  • Reduces the threshold to qualify as public safety employment to 30% (was previously 50%).
  • Adds motor vehicle enforcement officers to the list of public safety employees.
  • Clarifies that an employer is only required to provide health insurance coverage to full-time employees.
  • Ensures federal funding for public transit won’t be jeopardized.
Again, it was a tough week in Des Moines and all over the state.  I appreciate the ability to represent you, House District 1, and bring our Northwest Iowa values to the Concrete of Des Moines.  Thank you for all the encouragement and prayers this week.  It was needed and appreciated.  

Representative John H. Wills

Legislative Priorities 


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.
The House Republican position on government spending is reasonable, sustainable and based on simple common-sense budgeting principles.

Iowa’s Community Colleges Boost Iowa’s Economy
A new study put out by the Department of Education last week provides proof of the impact that Iowa’s Community Colleges have on the state’s economy.  It points to a contributed $5.4 billion in income, the equivalent of creating 107,170 new jobs
House Republicans have been strong supporters of Community Colleges over the past 7 years, knowing the good work they do on behalf of Iowa’s students and continuing workforce needs.  Prior to House Republican control, the Community Colleges weathered a $32 million reduction in state funding during the 2008 recession ($180 million to $148 million from 2009 to 2010). Since taking control in 2011, House Republicans have increased general fund appropriations to the community colleges by $55 million, a 37% increase in funding.
The study found that Iowa’s community colleges collectively contributed $5.4 billion into the state’s economy (equal to 3.3% of the state’s Gross State Product) and supported 107,170 jobs - roughly 6% of all jobs in Iowa - during fiscal year 2014-15. 
Among the study’s findings:
  • During the analysis year, past and present students generated $4.6 billion in added income for the state, which is equivalent to supporting 87,905 jobs.
  • The top industries impacted by Iowa’s community colleges include health care and social assistance; manufacturing; finance and insurance; and construction.
  • For every dollar of public money invested in Iowa’s community colleges, $3.50 in benefits is returned to taxpayers and the average annual rate of return is 10.4%.
  • For every dollar that a student spends on a community college education in Iowa, that student receives $6.50 per hour in higher future income with an average annual rate of return of 25.3%.
  • The average associate degree completer will see an increase in earnings of $9,500 each year when compared to someone with a high school diploma or equivalent. Over a working lifetime, this increase in earnings amounts to an undiscounted value of approximately $418,000 in higher earnings.
  • The total benefits to society, which include increased lifetime earnings, associated increases in business output and social savings, equal $15.2 billion (in present value form).
To read the full report, visit the Iowa Department of Education’s website:

2017 Legislative Forums

February 18 – 9:00am – Eggs & Issues – Spencer City Hall, 418 2nd Avenue West, Spencer
February 18 – 11:30am – IGL Forum – Pearson Lake Art Center, 2201 US-71, Okoboji
February 25 – 8:00am – Eggs & Issues – Forster Community Center, 404 Main St, Rock Rapids
February 25 – 10:30am – Eggs & Issues – Sibley Library, 406 9th Street, Sibley
March 11 – 11:30am – IGL Forum – Spirit Lake City Council Chamber, 1803 Hill Ave., Spirit Lake
March 25 – 8:00am – Eggs & Issues – Forster Community Center, 404 Main St, Rock Rapids

News from Around the District

Warm Weather Causing Concern on Area Lakes


The recent warm weather and predictions for even warmer conditions by the end of this week has officials issuing some advice to anyone venturing out onto the ice on area lakes. Jeff Morrison is a Conservation Officer with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

"Once we get a couple, two, three inches of water standing on the ice, that water has to go some place. It filters down through the ice and can really hurt it. It's going to change things. Ice conditions are always changing."

As a result, Morrison says those going out need to keep a very close eye on things.

"Certainly there are still a lot of people driving on the ice with both full size vehicles as well as UTVs and ATVs. You just have to be vigilant and make sure you're evaluating the ice conditions as you go."

There were some reports over the weekend of areas of open water near bridges expanding and of some seams that were getting larger.

Environmental Protection & Natural Resources

Chickadee tax check-off hopes for a needed increase in donations on 2016 tax forms

Last year, roughly 7,500 out of 1.6 million Iowa taxpayers helped boost wildlife conservation with donations to the Fish and Wildlife Fund on their state tax form.  Despite a steady increase in the total number of returns since 2009, this amount has stayed roughly the same since 2010, with only small fluctuations.

“We are so thankful that funding remained steady this tax season,” said Shepherd. “However, there is still plenty of opportunity to increase donation levels, which directly help some of Iowa’s most vulnerable animal species, so the funds are very important for natural resources.”

Proceeds from the check-off are one of the few means of support for the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Diversity program, responsible for protecting more than 1,000 fish and wildlife species in the state. Money from the Check-off helps improve wildlife habit, restore native wildlife, provide opportunities for citizens to learn about our natural resources and much more.

According to Shepherd, Iowans donated roughly $132,000 last spring when completing their 2015 tax forms. This translates to an average gift of $17.50 per donor.

The Fish and Wildlife Fund, known popularly as the “Chickadee Check-off,” is a mechanism the Iowa Legislature created in the 1980s for Iowa citizens to donate to wildlife conservation on the Iowa state tax form. Before this time, so called non-game wildlife had no dedicated funding.  At its height, Iowans donated more than $200,000 annually to the fund. According to Shepherd, the main reasons for the decline are unknown, but taxpayers do need to be alert when filling out their form or working with a tax preparer.

“It is an inconspicuous line that is easy to pass over or forget, and many tax preparers may not remember to ask whether a client wants to donate,” said Shepherd. “It may be up to the taxpayer to remind their preparer, or to make a point of looking for the donations section on either the paper or electronic form.”

According to Shepherd, donating on the tax form is easy: simply write the amount to donate next to the Fish and Wildlife Check-Off, line 57 on Form 1040, and the sum is either automatically deducted from the refund or added to the amount owed. As with all charitable contributions, the amount is deductible from next year’s taxes. 

 “Currently only about half a percent of Iowans donate,” said Shepherd. “If every Iowa taxpayer donated just a dollar, it would mean $1.5 million for wildlife and natural resource conservation. There is room to grow.”

For more information:


Tour of Our District

Ashton, Iowa

Established in 1882 / Incorporated in 1885

Almost 130 years ago there was a little village in Osceola County called St. Gilman. The first resident of the Gilman Township was Capt. Eldred Huff, who served as an officer with the Union Army during the Civil War. He hauled a load of lumber all the way from Sioux City for his house because there were no trees on the prairie. The town of St. Gilman was laid out in 1872. The first businesses included a lumberyard, a blacksmith shop and even a hotel. A millinery shop and a saloon followed. Then came the grasshoppers.

"They ate everything green; which included corn, grain, potatoes, the grass and leaves and bark of the young trees," according to "Growing Together," a history book of Ashton published in 1982. "The storekeepers sold what they could and packed up everything else and left. The hotel had no customers and went out of business, the saloon keeper had to tend to both sides of the bar and do all the drinking himself.

In the early 1870s however, things began to improve. In 1883 business revived in Ashton, which had been renamed the previous year after May Ashton, the daughter of a railroad man who traveled in the area. The town was incorporated in 1885.

The first rural schools in the township were established around that time, and a school was built in town sometime before 1895. St. Joseph Catholic School was established in 1889. A variety of houses of worship also sprang up in Ashton, including the First Presbyterian Church and Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church (later renamed St. Mary's Catholic Church). The Ashton Bible Church was established much later, in the 1950s.

The Ashton public school closed in 1974, and the parochial school also has shut its doors. Ashton parents currently have the choice of the Sibley’s or Sheldon’s school district, both of which are short drives.

The residents of Ashton considered the arrival of 10,000 RAGBRAI riders in the summer of 1999 a community event, and the distribution of proceeds following the event reflected that. In addition to a donation to the Ashton Public Library, dollars from The Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa went to a new basketball court at the city park, the Ashton Museum, Ashton Fire Department, American Legion and Community Building fund, and AGES, the Ashton Community Emergency Services team.

Story Credits go to Mary Pieper, a staff writer for the Northwest Iowa Review

State of Iowa Fun Fact

Helen Lemme

Helen Lemme was born Frances Helen Renfrow to Eva Craig and Lee Augustus Renfrow in Grinnell, Iowa on February 25, 1904. She was the oldest of six children and worked as a housekeeper to help her family financially. As a student she once won an essay contest but was not given the gold medal prize because of her race.

Lemme, valedictorian of her class, graduated from Grinnell High School, receiving a $5 gold coin scholarship. She began her university studies in 1923 at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, but in 1925 moved to the University of Iowa in Iowa City where she studied science and biology and served as the president of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Her first position after graduation was as a teacher at Lander University in Greenwood, South Carolina.  After one year she returned to Iowa City and on August 26, 1929, she married Allyn Lemme. She then accepted a teaching position at Alabama State Teachers College located in Montgomery, Alabama, which later became Alabama State College for Negroes, and is now Alabama State University.

Lemme then returned to Iowa City with the intention of obtaining a Master’s degree but she was diverted and had a son, Lawrence, on July 31, 1931. She later had another son, Paul, in 1935.

The Lemmes used their Iowa City home at 603 S. Capitol Street to provide room and board to African-American students at University of Iowa, who were not allowed to live in dormitories until 1946.  The Lemme home wasn’t grand, but it was lively. The five-bedroom house was often filled with conversation and music.  Duke Ellington once played at one of her all-night house parties.

Lemme devoted her life to the rights of African Americans and women, and she was an active member of the Democratic Party.  She served as a precinct committeewoman, a delegate at state and county conventions, and member of the Democratic Party Black Caucus. She also advocated for greater representation of Black voters at the 1944 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  Locally, Lemme was involved in the Human Rights Commission and the Iowa City Area Council of Churches. She was elected President of the Iowa City League of Women Voters in 1946 and Iowa City Woman of the Year in 1955. A few years later, she was the first Black woman in Iowa City to be awarded the Best Citizen of the Year.

Along the way she began work as a laboratory research technician in the Department of Internal Medicine.

Lemme died on December 15, 1968, from smoke inhalation in a fire in her home.

Tour of The Iowa State Capitol

Map of the Week

The map can be found here

Visitors of the Week

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) met with President Nook this week during UNI Day at the Capitol. Pictured here is Rep. Wills with with University of Northern Iowa President Nook.

Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) served as Speaker of the House during debate on Wednesday.  Pictured here is Rep. John Wills and Katie Simpson, Page from Spencer, Iowa.


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