Saturday, February 23, 2008

February Legislative Liveblog

February Legislative Liveblog

Good morning from the monthly League of Women Voters legislative forum at Harvat Hall in City Hall. Cohosts are Amer Assn of Univ. Professors and UI Faculty Senate. Charlie Eastham is our moderator for the day.

Looks like we have Senators Bolkcom Dvorsky and Schmitz and Reps Mascher and Jacoby. Missing Lensing (ill), Foege and all the Republicans from the edges of the county.

The anti-smokers are out in full force so I assume that topic will dominate.

Schmitz starts about 9:38. Senate Eductaion Cmte passed core curriculum; provides instructional support for teachers. Economic Growth working on "Google Bill" trying to get that $600 million facility into Council Bluffs, and maybe Bill Gates too. State government cmte looking at charity oversight. Chuck Grassley is into this on the fed level. Some complaints have come in to Tom Miller about larger nonprofits. Looking at fees to get more $ to the AG. Ways and Means working on income tax checkoffs. Senate wants to add child abuse prevention.

9:44 and here's Bob Dvorsky. Chair of Appropriations. Looking at supplemental appropos for FY08, including an amendment for DOT road salt. Voting equipment: hoping to have paper trails in place for November and moving toward optical scanners. "We have a tradition of open and fair caucuses, we need open and fair elections." State would be buying equipment for smaller counties. Vision Iowa: will run out of $ in next couple years. May change it to more of a community development program.

9:47 and Joe Bolkcom. Congrats to house on smoking bill, which gets big applause. "We have some work to do to get support in the Senate." First funnel is March 7. Working on health care reform, mental health crisis services and wellness initiatives. "We have some fairly significant budget constraints and will be saying no to some worthy things that we just can't afford." Working on accountability and transparancy in tax credits. Need to see if "the lofty goals we had when we created those credits" are actually paying off in jobs.

9:52 and Dave Jacoby. Working on Econ Development approps budget. "I want to spend my couple of inutes on asking you questions." Two proposals: TIME 21 transportation funding and statewide SILO. TIME21 would raise registration fees on NEW pickups (not preexisting) to improve roads. "It looks good on paper, but I struggle because a disproportionate amount of Johnson County taxpayer money would be used in 98 other counties. A significant part of the revenues raised here should stay in Johnson County." Same concern with state SILO. "It is a targeted funding stream, but again I worry that a significant portion raised in our county would be spent elsewhere." Notes stemcell breakthrough at VA. "Application to patients is maybe only 5 or 7 years down the road."

9:56 and last is Mary Mascher. Notes Chamber lobbying day this week and visits to pre-K programs. 4% allowable growth passed. Core curriculum is n House: looking at making coursed "rigorous and relevant." There's fears about one size fits all, but the bill allows flexibility. "We are establishing a baseline, and we hope there are districts that would do more than that. It does not mandate a specific curriculum, it mandates standards." Smoking: "We will not stop till we get a statewide ban with no exemptions," but this was best bill we could get. Protects 99% of statewide workers. "We will no longer tolerate secondhand smoke." State Govt Cmte established Native Americans commission. Nursing task force looking at shortages and pay; Patty Judge is heading up.

First question by tradition goes to the League. Barbara Beaumont asks about VOICE bill. Mascher: it's in House approps. "There's a hefty dollar amount on it" and $ is tight this year. "To be honest, I don't believe our leadership on either side is supportive," and that would have to change before progress. Jacoby: "As long as we're lacking control or restraints on 527's, those external orgs., and with the price tag, I don't think it'll move this year." Schmitz is running a Senate bill that would require campaign disclosure for 527s.

Peter Hansen of the Amer Assn Univ Profs. "How do you sell the UI to other legislators to get more support?" Jacoby: we work to show the value of UI to all 99 counties. "We have students from every county here. We need to pick up a little more on the UI as an economic tool and an academic institution that benefits the whole state. It's a continual discussion with members." Mascher: "The Univ sells itself as well. Every sessions hundreds of individuals from the Univ make that trek to Des Moines to offer their expertise and research. And our colleage recognize that. Every time you come up, you are ambassadors." Schmitz: the UI attracts many students from out of state who stick around. Dvorsky: way back when the legislature made a deal: Fort Madison got the prison, Iowa City got the University. "There's a question about who won." Some legislators are focused just on the bottom line of budget, and too many people in Johnson County think Regents funding is a given. "It's not a given, and people need to support that." Democrats believe in university research and unbiased research. "I still believe in the idea of a liberal education, not just workforce development." Bolkcom: Cites several examples of UI researchers helping Legislature. "I think support is strong for our regents universities. Legislatures change over time, and not everybody's knowledgable. But we're in a really good period now."

David Drake of faculty senate. Largely repeats Hansen. Dvorsky says tuition increases will be lowest in years and thanks regents for making "modest" requests. Mascher: "It's not a coincidence funding has been good. Democrats know what their funding priorities are. Education, health care. The smoking ban would NEVER have happened. People need to connect the dots."

Peter Small on HF2026 which lets state check immigrant documents, lets employees report suspicions. Immigrant community concerned. Asks Reps to withdraw support. Mascher: "2026 is dead." "We often are given information about general ideas of bill. We did not have a copy of specifics and language. Some of us feel betrayed by what was in it, and I have learned from that experience. I won't be signing on to anything until I see the language." Still working on an identity theft version of the bill. Father Rudolph Juarez: Post 9/11 "We've legislated out of fear. Political leaders try to outdo themselves bashing those who are disenfranchised." Jacoby agrees: "fear and misinformation." Juarez: "when you set the barrier so high that almost no one can meet the criteria of legal immigration, it's almost moot." Jacoby: highest number of illegal immigrants was in 1910, not 2007. Bolkcom: negative stories on the right have prevented national reform, so effort is moving to states.

Massive line of questioners at 10:29, nearly all wearing antismoking stickers.

Beth Ritter-Rubeck: gives an anti smoking speech. Bolkcom: Senate Democrats will caucus on smoking bill Tuesday. 7 or 8 rural members would prefer a local control bill. You know who they are and "They're probably being targeted at meetings like this." "We don't have the votes to pass what the house did. I'm prepared to supprot what the house did. It will not come to the floor unless we're certain we have the votes. The feeling is we don't want this to sit around very long." Schmitz: Plan is to get it through state govt. comte. Monday. Senate passed local control but it failed in house. "My preference was a statewide ban all along." Still questions about farmers. Dvorsky: "Ditto ditto ditto. But there are some tweaks to make the bill a it better, that should be our job. We're not a unicameral and should do some due diligence."

10:35. Pat Ephgrave: assisted living reporting. Bolkcom: hope we can accomplish it. Jacoby: intent is to see that there's reasonable knowledge, there were unintended consequences to past legislations.

Bob Welsh: more nursing home issues. Differences in degree of violation where people wander off. Nursing homes don't want to take people who wander off due to liability; we need legislation to MAKE the homes take them. More of a speech than a question. Bolkcom: "the nursing home industry was surprised and reacted kind of badly."

John Oxley(?) asks about salt/sand supply issues. Bolkcom: "Have it snow less. No, really, it's really hard for local govts. People planned for the average year, and the overtime and fuel costs are high too. It's a tough thing to plan for." Dvorsky hopes levels of govt can share resources in an all-in-it-together way. "Maybe a crisis like this will force that." Schmitz: a plant in Fairfield is using sawdust.

Niles Bliss: Healthy Families budget for family planning. Dvorsky: it's withing HHS budget. "The governor had a line item for it, we didn't. It's a really good new program that'll be tough to fund. Maybe we can move $ from existing programs."

First of the students: Global warming. Bolkcom sites several bills that I have trouble hearing. Jacoby: "There are a very significant number of people in the House who do not believe in any form global warming and don't believe it has any effect on us in our society. The only way a representative from Sioux County might believe it is if a polar bear knocks on the front door."

Someone whose name I missed while I was transcribing Jacoby's joke asks about Iowa mandating infertility coverage. (as an adoptive parent, I'm skeptical."Jacoby: looking at a commission to deal with which issues should be mandates. "I'm sure that'll be an issue the commission addresses." Mascher: there are 15-20 different mandate bills. "Every year different groups come before us: prosthetics. PKU. Hearing aids for children. Mental health and substance abuse is the biggest and most costly, but it saves money in the long run. Nonpatisanship is critical."

Same sex marriage. Mascher: "I support same sex marriage." Applause. Well, OK, I started it. Schmitz: constitutional amendment not going anywhere, "one of the advantages of Dems being in majority." Jacoby: "I'm vehemently against the marriage amendment."

10:58 Ben Stiers: Medicaid waivers and brain injuries, with a vets angle. Bolkcom: "the federal govt is not going to help us." Jacoby: two issues, Medicaid waivers and vets. Mascher: "This next election will change everything. In the present administration nothing will change. The next president will make very concerted efforts to take care of veterans." Schmitz notes auto accident aspect of brain injury.

11:05 and the North Central Junior High kids are lined up with the questions:

  • Teacher pay (twice)
  • world hunger vs. ethanol
  • wildlife habitat
  • Minimum wage
  • meth
  • ocean pollution
  • population growth
  • Bike tax (opposed)
  • Lead contamination
  • Global warming again

    As usual legislators divvy them up and touch all the bases and wrap at 11:27.
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