Saturday, March 29, 2008

League Legislative Forum

League of Women Voters March Legislative Forum

It's 9:34 and the League forum is underway. Today we have Dvorsky and Bolkcom from the Senate, and Mary Mascher and Linn County's Todd Taylor from the House. Attendance is off due probably to the Sueppel funeral schedule conflict. We have a few other noteworthies who I'll drop in. (T. Neuzil, L. Pulkrabek, T. Dahms, R. Bailey, P. Fields, among others)

Starting off with Bolkcom. Second funnel was yesterday but "nothing's ever dead until we actually adjourn." Health care still out there, Senate hoping to take it up this week. Amendment is reviving the idea of insurance advocate. Open records open meetings also moving.

The junior high kids aren't here, that's a first.

Bolkcom continues: conference committee working on the smoking ban. "We hope to find the votes the week after next for legislation that's protect 99.9% of workers." Collective bargaining bill: "the governor has some concerns." Nicely understated, Joe.

Bob Dvorsky next. Major appropriations bills moving out of subcommittees. Three types of bills exempt from funnel: approps, ways & means, leadership. And those are some of the major bills. Open meetings moving. Voting machine bill signed.

Mascher up next at 9:44. Education appropriations is out of subcommittee. Has more community college $ than governor's budget. Smoking conference committee: "we believe whatever comes forward will be a better version." Working on adult dependent abuse bill. Model core curriculum is still alive -- "It brings everyone up to an equal bar." Bottle bill: was referred to Ways & Means. "We believe it still has a pulse, we're not sure if the heartbeat is still there." Compulsory attendance until age 17 also got through funnel. (Do they get funnel cake during funnel week?) Statewide SILO is still alive. Collective bargaining bill: "I think it just equalized the playing field as to what issues can be bargained. I really don't think it will have an enormous budgetary impact" on local govts. "It's something Democrats have supported for many many years. It needed to be done a long time ago"

Todd Taylor is here, dressed casual. He was here in the first place because his day gig is with AFSCME, and he's one of many labor folks here. Justice system budget is basically status quo. Some federal $ dropped off, so some of the "new" expenditures are just making up for federal cuts. Labor committee: Collective bargaining bill: "There's the mandatory subject, the permitted subjects, and the illegal subjects" (Illegal=retirement.) "Open scope just says they have to talk about it. 34 other states have it. It's not a new idea, it's a new idea for Iowa."

Open to the audience at 9:56. Barbara Beaumont is first with bottle bill. Mascher: "The governor is really adamant about something coming forward, if nothing else an increase for the distribution centers so they can stay viable." Expansion of containers is also still alive. There's a taskforce to look at just doing it curbside. Bolkcom: "We've been at stalemate" between distributors and recyclers. "I don't believe we've found a solution yet." Only about 300 Iowa cities have any kind of recycling. "The grocery stores are not going to be able to accomodate 300 million more containers." Doesn't think anything but study will pass this year.

Nile Jessen (?) of NAMI, one of cohosts, is next. Questions about medication funding. Dvorsky: HHS committees put the $ back in, so we're in good shape. Mascher: there's a bill for a health insurance mandates commission (I missed the #). 6 or 7 bills with mandates, so those will be first topics discussed. "This is one of our ways to get mental health parity, with substance abuse included, on the table."

Lori Bears of ARC asks about autism bills at 10:05. Mascher: a couple bills out there dealing with immunization, which is controversial because there's not consensus with health care community. (Correction: the junior high kids ARE here.) There's also a bill to establish task forces at AEAs. Bolkcom: there's also bills for state to assume county portion of Medicaid match. Also: crisis MH services bill ($6 million)

I'm off my game this AM and not catching things as fast as usual.

Several people rush the mike at once. Sue Dvorsky gets up wearing the teacher hat. "We all want to thank all of you for the committment you've shown to working people and public employees." Gets applause. "There seems to be an apocalyptic nature to the rhetoric about this. This is not an armageddon bill." Taylor: "It's common for the private sector. If we strangle the employer we're strangling ourselves. The folks we're talking about are also taxpayers." Mascher: "One of the issues is teacher prep time. Whenever we got to arbitration, we had to start talking about break time as opposed to prep time. It's important for us to be able to negotiate prep time. I don't understand why an equal playing field creates problems for administrators. 90% of contracts are voluntarily settled, and this won't change that at all."

Bob Dvorsky: "Any time we can give a little more respect and dignity for public employees, it's good. This just allows public sector people equal rights, but the press is so biased they talk about 'union demands.'" Everything has to be negotiated, isn't required, and it works both ways; govt's can bring up additional issues too. Will improve relationship with bargaining unit people. Bolkcom: I remain hopeful Culver will sign.

John Oxley (?), a social work grad student: worked on a needs assessment for adults with special needs recreational activities. Dvorsky discusses independent living centers.

Eve Casserly asks about a broad range of senior-related issues. Bolkcom touches a lot of bases that I missed while someone ran something else by me. Mascher says dependent adult abuse bill is going to get through; also need to address pay of caregivers. Dvorsky says it'll be hard to expand case management, because it's a tough year fiscally. Taylor says they're trying to get $ into Senior Living Trust Fund.

Anti-smoker Beth Ritter-Rubeck mostly just says thanks, asks for an update on exemptions. Bolkcom is on the conference cmte. "What'll be in the bill is what can get the votes, and the conference committee is trying to determine what those exemptions will be." Comes down to a handful of members. Could be smoking on gaming floor only (all or part) Dvorsky: "The perfect is the enemy of the good, and I don't think we can pass a perfect no exemptions bill." "The casino is a big concern." Likely exemptions are casino floors and vets home. "99.9 is better than zero." Mascher: "I don't want the bar and restaurant exemption. The only reason that went in was we wanted to keep the bill alive in the House, to get it to a conference committee. I do believe we're going to get something this year." Taylor: "The bar and restaurant provision is kind of the whole point of the bill." As of now conference committee is closed so no new angles.

Chris Squire with more tobacco. Bolkcom: we need 4 GOP votes to confirm Tom Newton at Dept of Health and we may not have that. Sounds like there's a cooling off period in play for the appointment. Dvorsky says deadline is 4/15. "Eventually he'll get confirmed or there'll be a recess appointment."

Neil Daniels asks more on autism; Mascher: "We don't tend to act on things when the experts disagree" and on this there's disagreement between experts and public.

Conservation Director Harry Graves asks about SJR 2002, natural resources $. Taylor: I'm on committee and it passed out unanimous this week. As it's constitutional, it has to pass next year. 3/8 of a cent sales tax for environmental programs. Earliest it can make the ballot is 2010 general election. Some question about doing it by constitution, rather than out of regular funds, so it'll be a tax debate. Mascher: I'm supportive, but there's also the same-sex marriage amendment. "The concern is that this will open up that debate. As soon as you open the issue of constitutional amendments, this could come into play, and that debate would be very hurtful and detrimental."

Emily Bladel, social work student, on renewable energy. Bolkcom: "It's deader than a doornail, to put it bluntly." The utilities are lining up against any progressive energy legislation.

Ann Bovbjerg on Bush "stimulus" rebates, getting satirical. "If you use it to pay off your credit card, you're depriving the banks of late fees." In that general vein. Bolkcom: "How many people are tearing their checks up?" No hands go up. With state not taxing those, they forgo $70 million of revenue. Mascher: "We should be lobbying federal officials for an economic stimulus package that crates jobs. This is woefully inadequate and does not address the problem." Taylor: "The enormous cost of the war is hurting our overall economy." He has an unemployment modernization bill -- died in funnel but leadership may revive it. Items like extended training benefits. "It was $42 million just to send you the note saying you were going to get the rebate."

Bob Welsh: consumer protection act. Mascher: Died in committee. (I'm picturing "I'm just a bill" here.) Dvorsky: things'll be better post-election.

11:04 and the kids are on. The war, animal testing and neglect, teacher salary (now that's a question that'll get ya brownie points). Even less students than usual this week.

Bolkcom: it's been a good year for animal protection in legislature. But pet protection in domestic abuse cases -- that died in House committee. Dvorsky: "I'm supporting a candidate -- and the other candidate does too -- who wants to end the war sooner rather than later." (The all-Dem panel is split 50-50 with the senators with Obama and the reps with Hillary.) Mascher: need to end the war; we've got a lot of wounded people coming home and we can't forget them either. Many vet bills in legislature to cover gaps that feds aren't providing. There's a role for animal testing -- we have human testing too, we need to benefit others. Animal testing necessary but needs to be done in a humane way. UIowa does a good job. Taylor: passed exotic/wild pet bill last year.

They wrap early(!) at 11:17.

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