Editor’s note: Senator Courtney has been out of action with some medical problems. We are quite happy he is back to work.
I talked with university students on April 2 about the importance of affordable, high-quality public universities to Iowa. More than 100 students, alumni and university leaders traveled to Des Moines to discuss higher education issues, especially the tuition freeze proposed by the Board of Regents. I support a freeze on in-state undergraduate tuition for next year.
LOCAL IOWANS MAKE LAND GIFT TO STATE
April 1 was the Fifth Annual “Gift to Iowa’s Future” Day at the State Capitol. This event recognizes, celebrates and honors those public-spirited folks who’ve donated land or a conservation easement to benefit Iowa’s parks, trails, fish and wildlife habitat, natural areas, open spaces and public recreation areas. More than 20 families and organizations were honored this year, including WG Block Co. and the Chris and Mary Rayburn Family of Bettendorf. They donated land in Muscatine County. Bruce and Kathy Mountain of New Virginia donated land in Des Moines County.
EXPANDING MIDDLE CLASS BY HELPING IOWANS FILL SKILLED JOB OPENINGS
Our community colleges give thousands of Iowans the opportunity to improve their skills and build a better life for their families. They’re also helping to solve one of the biggest problems facing Iowa: the skilled worker shortage.
All over Iowa, businesses are struggling to find the skilled workers they need. Yet compared to other states, Iowa does relatively little to help low-skilled workers move up. For example, Iowa is one of only three states that does not invest in adult literacy.
If we don’t solve Iowa’s shortage of skilled workers, local businesses won’t grow and our state will become less attractive to outside investment. That’s why the Iowa Senate gave bipartisan support this week to investing an additional $25 million to expand skills training at every community college.
Our nationally respected community colleges already work closely with local businesses. Those relationships are an asset when it comes to identifying job openings and helping Iowans fill them—jobs as welders, truck drivers, biofuel technicians, nurses and other skilled occupations.
In five years, 62 percent of all Iowa jobs will require education and training beyond high school. Right now, however, one-sixth of Iowa’s working-age adults don’t even have a high school diploma. If we write off all those folks—nearly 300,000 Iowans—we will shut the door on a stronger Iowa economy.
Senate File 429 is a smart move for Iowans and the Iowa economy. Such Iowa business organizations as the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Master Builders of Iowa and the Iowa Chamber Alliance support this effort. It is now under consideration by the Iowa House.
BUDGETING FOR A STRONGER IOWA ECONOMY
This legislative session is all about expanding the middle class. That means working for policies and budgets that put Iowans back to work, help businesses create jobs and improve Iowa’s economy. The Economic Development budget we’re putting together this year will do just that.
Senate File 430 provides incentives to attract businesses to Iowa and help existing businesses expand.
This effort includes economic development initiatives at our state universities. They work with businesses throughout the state on technology commercialization, marketing, entrepreneurship and technical assistance. New initiatives will help the University of Iowa, Iowa State and UNI work with Iowa companies to promote their goods and services outside of Iowa, support new laboratories for biorenewables and bioscience research, and expand entrepreneurship.
In addition, the Senate voted to reopen some of the workforce offices that were closed last year. These offices help connect unemployed and underemployed Iowans with businesses looking to hire.
Finally, we are also investing in the revitalization of local business districts in rural and urban communities through the Main Street Iowa Program. For almost three decades, “Main Street Iowa” has helped communities revitalize their local economies by capitalizing on what makes them unique, including Burlington.
MAIN STREET PROGRAM PROVIDES GREAT RETURNS TO COMMUNITIES
Iowa’s main streets are the heart of our small towns and urban neighborhoods. This year, we want to increase funding for “Main Street Iowa,” a proven program that turns historic commercial districts into thriving centers of commerce.
A recent study found that Main Street Iowa offers a great return on investment. For every $1 the state puts into the program, there is a local building investment of $71.93. In 2012, the estimated sales tax revenue from new businesses in Main Street communities was about 48 times the budget for the program.
An average of 623 jobs are created per year through building rehabilitation alone. And property taxes from Main Street building renovations provide an additional $10.8 million to local governments every year.
It takes a big commitment for a community to be accepted into the Main Street Iowa Program, but the excellent results are unmistakable. Communities interested in revitalizing their historic main streets are encouraged to apply for the Main Street Program. Learn more here.
MAXIMIZING EXPERIENCE, MINIMIZING RISK FOR YOUNG DRIVERS
When a teen dies in a car accident, the grief is shared by the entire community. Everyone asks, “Could that accident have been avoided?” While no law can prevent all accidents, tougher license requirements for people learning to drive have been shown to help.
On March 27, the Senate decided to make Iowa roads safer with two key changes to our state’s graduated driver licensing program. Under Senate File 115:
1. Drivers under 18 must hold an instruction permit for a full 12 months. That way every teen has a chance for supervised driving practice in Iowa’s four seasons. The most dangerous time for new drivers is in the first six months, but accident rates decrease with each additional month behind the wheel.
2. Drivers under 18 are allowed to have only one unrelated passenger in the vehicle during their first 6 months with an intermediate license. Parents may opt their teen out of this restriction. Accident rates jump dramatically when young drivers have young passengers in the car, according to study by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Forty-five other states with similar laws have benefited from a decrease in the number of fatalities and accidents on their roads. I hope the House will also approve this effort to make Iowa roadways safer and send it to the Governor for his signature.
NEW WAY TO HELP IOWA NONPROFITS
Iowa organizations will have a new way to promote their cause and raise money if Senate File 371 becomes law. The bill will make it easier for nonprofits in Iowa to get their own special license plate.
The Iowa Department of Transportation will create a special plate with a spot for an organization’s decal. The decal will be designed, produced and issued by the organization, and fees charged for the decal will go to the organization.
A qualifying organization must be a nonprofit with at least 200 members that serves the community or contributes to the welfare of others. A group of organizations with a common purpose could also qualify. The plates can even be personalized.
ENCOURAGING IOWANS TO MAKE CHARITABLE FOOD DONATIONS
More than 408,000 Iowans can’t afford the food they need, according to the Iowa Food Bank Association. This includes Iowa seniors on fixed incomes and working families on tight budgets. One in five children in Iowa does not get enough food at home. But more help will soon be available if Iowa joins 37 other states in fighting hunger through a State Emergency Food Program.
SF 367, approved by the Senate Ways & Means Committee, would provide $2 million for food bank organizations to purchase food and promote healthy
eating. In addition, the bill creates a new tax credit for farmers and other growers that donate produce to Iowa food banks or other Iowa emergency feeding organizations. The tax credit is equal to 15 percent of the wholesale value of the food donated, and is limited to no more than $5,000 per taxpayer per year.
I am encouraging members of the Iowa House to support this bill.
Des Moines, IA 50319
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Burlington, IA 52601