I am dismayed by recent news of UNI President Ben Allen’s plan to close Malcom Price Laboratory School. The lab school has long been a key part of UNI’s education training program. I am obviously biased, as I received a wonderful K-12 education of my own at the lab school.
I have reviewed the basic plan put forward by President Allen and I have visited with representatives of the Iowa Board of Regents. I do
believe that a compelling case has been made for the MPLS closure; nor has I seen any alternative plan to provide adequate classroom training opportunities for UNI education students.
In these budget times, there is no question that some budget cuts must to be made. What I cannot accept is that these cuts should be made within the education department, historically UNI’s primary mission.
Here is contact information for some of my colleagues in the Iowa House who will be influential in the decision to keep Price Lab School open. If you care about keeping the Price Lab School open, it important to reach out to your own local legislators, but especially important if you live in one of these legislators’ districts.
House of Representatives
Speaker of House Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha)
House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (R-Garner)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines)
House Education Committee Chairman Greg Forristall (R-Macedonia)
House Education Appropriations Chairman Cecil Dolecheck (R-Mount Ayr)
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs)
Senate Minority Leader Jerry Behn (R-Boone)
Senate Education Committee Chairman Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames)
Senate Education Appropriations Chairman Brian Schoenjahn (D-Arlington)
A recent report from the non-partisan Protected Innocence Initiative reviewed the laws of all 50 states with regard to sex trafficking, particularly of children. The Protected Innocence Initiative report gave Iowa a grade of ‘D’. Since looking at this report, I have been looking at ways to strengthen Iowa law to better protect women and children from these heinous crimes.
This is not just a problem half-way around the world; this terrible crime is happening right here in Iowa. We are no longer safe to sit by and watch these things take place in third world countries – we have to take action to better protect this from happening here at home.
I have sponsored a bill along with my friend Representative Walt Rogers from Cedar Falls that would make several changes to our criminal laws on sex trafficking. Rep. Rogers has also placed this language as an amendment to another bill being worked on regarding possession and distribution of obscene material. Between these two vehicles, I am hope that we can move this legislation forward.
This bill broadens the scope of what falls under sex trafficking, especially where children are involved. It states that if the child is under eighteen, the crime need not have involved fraud, force or coercion to be prosecutable. It also strengthens the old law to say that “a person’s ignorance of the age of the victim or a belief that the victim was older is no defense.” This law also provides sex trafficking victims with the opportunity to receive victim compensation.
I believe that one of the most fundamental functions of government is to protect citizens, especially our most vulnerable. We will keep working on this bill for the safety of women and children in Iowa.
Tuesday night, the House approved Senate File 2071, the Fiscal Year 2012 supplemental appropriations bill. This funding is needed to ensure prison staffing levels are maintained. After an agreement was reached between the House and Senate, $7.5 million was appropriated to the Department of Corrections.
It is important to note that this supplemental appropriation is revenue neutral. Because of cost savings identified in this bill, the budget for the current fiscal year still does not spend any more than the state collects in revenue.
I applaud the Department of Corrections for operating efficiently enough for the current fiscal year, making their request one that we can accommodate. The Department has done a good job of reducing internal spending as much as possible in order to come in at the $7.5 million figure.
The cost savings for this bill come primarily from Medicaid expenditures, which for FY 2012 are coming in at least $6.5 million under budget.
Moving forward, the state will be forced to make additional resources available for corrections. The prison population in Iowa continues to grow, and incarcerating and rehabilitating prisoners is one the most critical responsibilities of government.
Each year, one of the high profile issues for the legislature is to set “allowable growth” for K-12 education funding. The legislature determines what growth rate, if any, will be applied to the per-pupil funding amount.
Currently, K-12 education funding in Iowa is set at $5883 per enrolled pupil. When you hear proposals for 0%, 2% or 4% allowable growth, that percentage is what would be applied to that $5883 per-pupil amount.
State and local funding is broken down into three segments. The first portion of the $5883 is comprised of $5.40 per $1000 of valuation in local property taxes. The second portion comes from a direct state appropriation, which takes the funding up to 87.5% of the $5883 per pupil. The final 12.5% is finished off by additional local property taxes.
One implication of this formula is that “property rich” districts (e.g. West Des Moines) are able to meet a much greater part of the $5883 per pupil through local property tax than “property poor” districts. Conversely, many of these “property poor” areas need a much higher school property tax levy than schools in our area.
In the past, to keep growing government in difficult budget years, the legislature set an allowable growth rate, and then intentionally underfunded its share of the K-12 funding the following year. This underfunding pulled the rug out from under school districts, after they had already set their budgets.
Last year, with new leadership in the House, we fixed this practice of intentional underfunding, and appropriated over $200 million additional dollars to make up this shortfall from the year before, while at the same time allowable growth was set at zero.
This year, there seems to be some consensus at the Capitol for some amount of allowable growth, yet no agreement yet on the exact rate. I agree with many that it’s time for a modest increase in school funding, but with our economic future still uncertain, I think it’s prudent that we set a growth rate we know is sustainable. I also would like to see any new K-12 educational spending offset by reductions and efficiencies in other areas.
The education funding formula has also entered into the conversation on property tax reform. Part of the plan recently passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee provides that the state pick up the above mentioned third piece of funding, the final 12.5%, currently paid by local property taxes.
On the upside, this plan would provide direct relief to local property taxpayers, without impacting school funding at all. On the other hand, as explained above, our area would get less property tax relief than other communities that receive a greater share of state aid.
Education funding in Iowa is a complex issue that significantly impacts the entire state budget. We all want the best for our children, and I will continue to work toward an educational system that is respectful of taxpayers, while delivering value to families and our children.
Apart from the high-profile bills on the budget and taxes we consider in the legislature, there are a lot more items that you rarely see in the news. In my role on the Judiciary and Public Safety Committees, I get the opportunity to work on many pieces of legislation related to the criminal code and public safety.
One bill I have in drafting right now aims to clarify and strengthen our laws on domestic minor sex trafficking. Sadly, this is not just something that happens in other parts of the world, but does happen here in Iowa. One of the key components of this bill will be to add new penalties for the use of the Internet lure, entice or purchase a minor in this appalling business.
I have submitted another bill creating enhanced penalties for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Several people in the community have relayed to me how they have been personally impacted by drunk driving, and feel that it is too easy for offenders to get their license back. All too often, we hear stories of second or third time DUI offenders causing serious accidents.
The House recently passed a bill adding specific penalties for strangulation under our domestic abuse statute. Data reveals that strangulation is a predictor of future, more violent acts against a domestic partner. By adding new penalties for strangulation, prosecutors and law enforcement will have another tool to help separate abuse victims from the abuser, and hopefully provide additional protection from further violence.
There is also an effort this year to improve and strengthen the new ban on synthetic drugs we fought for in the House last year. The problem is that there are always new synthetic compounds being invented, and prosecutors are finding it difficult to prosecute every case. We will be working this year to make sure the Iowa code fully addresses a complete list of these dangerous drugs.
Many of these bills are non-partisan and get broad support, but there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done at the subcommittee and committee level. As always, if you have any suggestions or comments, please do not hesitate to let me know.
Last week, House Republicans announced targets for the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. The goal was to set forth a budget that is honest, transparent, and sustainable. The budget meets my own personal goals in that it does not spend more than the state takes in and provides for priority services in the areas of education, health and human services, and public safety. Taxpayers should also appreciate that this budget does not use one-time money to balance the budget and does not purposefully underfund state commitments like the property tax credits.
The House Republican Budget proposal spends $6.059 billion or $313 million less than the total overall spending for FY 2011 and $59.9 million more than the FY 2012 budget. The small increase is almost all due to $55 million of new expenditure to fully fund property tax credits. If enacted, this will be the first time state property tax credits have been fully-funded since FY 2000.
Despite the increase to fund the property tax credits, it is still only a 1 percent budget growth over FY 2012.
Another key component of the targets is $42.9 million for state employees, including legislators, to contribute to the cost of their health insurance. This assumes that all state employees, including legislators, will pay at least $200 per month for their premiums
In comparing other budget targets in the legislature, it is important to understand how the available revenue number is used in each proposal. Some budget proposals plan to spend all available dollars, even one-time money carried over from the previous year. The House Republican plan does not consider these one-time funds to be appropriate for spending toward ongoing projects. Spending these one-time funds only grows government, and forces tax increases in future years.
This budget will be another positive step toward aligning state spending with state revenue. With a healthy balance sheet, the taxpayers of Iowa can have greater confidence that future legislatures will not resort to tax increases to solve budget problems. This confidence will help individuals and families plan their own budgets and for employers to be able to predict future expenses.
The Clive Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the next legislative forum in our area. The Chamber has invited everyone to attend their “Legislators Coffee” event on Saturday, February 25, 2012 from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Walnut Ridge Senior Campus, second floor theatre room, located at 1701 Campus Drive, Clive, Iowa.
Along with myself, invited legislators include Senator Jerry Behn, Senator Pat Ward, Representative Ralph Watts and Representative Peter Cownie.
The Chamber is expecting another big crowd. If you have any questions, please let me know, or contact Kristy Greening at firstname.lastname@example.org . Hope to see you there!