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Archive for January 21, 2012

The Courtney Report

Iowa veterans deserve our support

On January 18, hundreds of veterans from around the state visited the Iowa Capitol to meet with legislators. I was pleased to welcome local veterans to the Senate and listen to their concerns and ideas.

Throughout the day, veterans had the chance to meet Adjutant General Timothy Orr of the Iowa National Guard, Commandant David Worley of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown, Todd Jacobus, chair of the Iowa Commission of Veterans Affairs, and Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs executive director Jodi Tymeson.

In recent years, the Legislature re-established the Veterans Affairs Committee to ensure bipartisan work toward meeting the needs of those who serve. This year, we continue to explore opportunities to support Iowa veterans and their families, enhance existing services at the state and county levels, and help returning service members make a smooth transition back to civilian life.

Iowa troops who are in harm’s way and those who’ve served over the decades deserve our gratitude and dedicated support.

Ensuring Guard members get promised education benefits

The first bill approved by the Iowa Senate this year will help our National Guard soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan get the college tuition assistance they were promised. Senate File 2007 invests an additional $1.3 million in the Iowa National Guard tuition assistance program.

Helping Iowa’s returning soldiers attend college and improve their skills makes a lot of sense. We want these young people qualify for good jobs at good wages and help build a stronger Iowa economy.

Last month, the Guard told us that the dollars available for tuition assistance would fall short due increased demand among returning soldiers hoping to get a college education. In fact, the average grant fell from 90 percent of tuition to 50 percent. The cuts went into effect for the spring semester, which meant that Guard members currently enrolled in college classes had to find other sources of assistance to pay their bills.

If the Iowa House also approves the legislation and Governor Branstad signs it, the benefit to soldiers at Iowa’s universities would be up to $1,300 per semester in additional aid.

Ensuring our soldiers get to go to college was a good start to what hopefully will be a productive session focused on training a skilled workforce and creating jobs for all Iowans.

Increasing safety for school children

Each year children die because drivers fail to obey school bus laws. A bipartisan bill in the Senate aims to keep Iowa kids safer when getting on and off their school bus.

This legislation was proposed after the tragic death of Kadyn Halvorson of Northwood. Kadyn was killed while crossing the road to board her school bus.

Current law prohibits drivers from passing a stopped school bus that has its lights flashing and the stop arm out. Yet every year, hundreds of drivers violate this law and endanger the lives of children heading to school and home.

“Kadyn’s Law” would enhance the penalties for unlawfully passing a school bus by increasing fines and giving the court the option of sending the offender to jail. The bill also calls for the Iowa Department of Transportation to conduct a study of how best to increase school bus safety for children.

State funding improves local libraries

Local Iowa libraries play key roles in literacy, workforce and economic development, lifelong learning and entertainment. Iowans use their libraries to find jobs, do homework, apply to college, learn about medical treatments, access government information and more.

Every day, more than 55,000 Iowans walk through the doors of public libraries in our state. According to Iowa Library Services, more than two-thirds of all Iowans have active public library cards, and use of our libraries increases each year.

A new report showing how state funding improves our libraries is available at Have a look and see how our local libraries used the state funding they received for 2011 to improve their services.

News you can use
Radon in your home causes cancer

January is National Radon Action Month, a good time for Iowans to make themselves aware of the risks of radon in their homes and how to protect their families. According to the Iowa Radon Coalition, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Seven in ten Iowa homes contain elevated levels. This is an unnecessary risk when you consider that radon is easy to test for and to mitigate. Tests cost as little as $10 and are simple to perform. Learn more about testing for and fixing a radon problem here: 

Keep Iowa Beautiful offers scholarships

Keep Iowa Beautiful is offering up to four $500 scholarships to Iowa high school seniors in 2012. Iowa students enrolling in an Iowa college or university and planning to major in community enhancement or environmental studies are eligible to apply. The application deadline is February 7. For complete details, go to

World Food Prize opportunity for students

The World Food Prize is hosting the first annual Iowa Youth Institute at Iowa State University on April 30. Schools nominate students to participate in the event. Those nominated by their school must submit a research paper addressing a global issue concerning hunger and poverty by April 1. Those selected to be a part of the Iowa Youth Institute may earn the chance to attend the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute, apply for the Borlaug- Ruan International Internship, apply for the USDA Wallace-Carver Internship and receive an Iowa State University scholarship. To learn more, visit here.

Contact Tom

Iowa Statehouse
Des Moines, IA 50319

2609 Clearview Drive
Burlington, IA 52601

Time To Inform Ourselves On ALEC

The legislature is starting up once more. Most of us have a preconceived idea that we took away from grade school civics that our local elected representatives act with local concerns at the top of their lists.

But as with many other things, money has corrupted our governmental processes even at this level. Where once the major concern was crafting legislation that would address problems that arose while having the least negative effects on citizens, now the concern for at least one group is to enact legislation in states (including Iowa) that promotes a national agenda.

Working behind the scenes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushes “pro-business” legislation in state legislation throughout the country. ALEC has been around for a long time, but only recently has the climate been ripe for them to flex their muscle. They have semi-annual meetings where state legislators and corporate big-wigs work on what they call “model legislation” for states.

The “model legislation” is usually set up to change current public policy so that business can have a much more friendly climate in which to operate. States that have a Republican governor and Republican majority in both houses of their legislature have pushed hard to pass ALEC model  legislation.

These states are in the news quite a bit recently because the legislation has been so extreme. Wisconsin is the prime example with the passage of union-busting legislation, public school fund strangling legislation, and of course the crown jewel – legislation to restrict the right to vote targeted at traditional Democratic constituencies.

Other states that have passed similar types of  laws include Ohio and Michigan. Indiana is currently attempting to pass some of the ALEC model legislation. Other model legislation include things like privately run prison systems, privatizing libraries and privatizing municipal utilities such as water.

Over time, Iowa has been one of the sanest and most forward looking of states in their legislation. Yet the scourge of ALEC policies has at least a firm toe-hold in Iowa. Responding to an inquiry I sent,  Charles Smithson, chief clerk of the Iowa House of Representatives, replied that ALEC membership was an opt out option. All Republican members of the House are members of ALEC. There were also four Democrats, three of whom have since dropped out.

So just as huge corporate money is totally corrupting our national politics, at the state level we have a similar problem. ALEC is the vehicle being used to bring corporations and legislators together, usually behind closed doors in unannounced meetings.

In the coming weeks we will try to focus on which of Iowa’s legislators have close ties with ALEC and which bills that are being introduced are based on ALEC model legislation.

Iowa is one step, literally one seat away from being another Wisconsin or Ohio. Had Liz Mathis not won in the special senate election last fall, the door to all sorts of ALEC legislation would have been opened.

Please go here to the alecexposed website for much more information on ALEC and their model legislation that is not good for Iowa.