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Iowa Legislature

The Courtney Report School Issues

Courtney Report
editor’s note: I took two sections from Senator Courtney’s weekly newsletter that were relevant to issues that the legislature will be working on. For complete newsletters access Senator Courtney’s website here.

Strong Iowa schools are crucial to a world-class education that prepares students for good jobs and strengthens our middle class.

Business leaders say Iowa’s shortage of skilled workers hurts their ability to grow and operate competitively. That means our state’s continued success depends on support for Iowa students and schools at all levels.

Other states have figured out that high-wage, high-skill economies are built on a foundation of great local schools, and they’ve committed to supporting those schools. While other states are investing more in student achievement, Iowa is failing to commit enough dollars to ensure each student’s success. On average, we invest $1,612 less per student than the national average. We are currently 35th in the nation.

The Legislature needs to increase its commitment to great schools, higher student achievement and increased teacher quality. Local parents, teachers and school administrators say our schools increasingly are forced to choose between providing a good education or just the bare minimum.

The problem has emerged as support for our local schools has become an increasingly partisan issue, and it could get worse. Governor Branstad and the Iowa House have released their proposals for school funding for the next two years. Their proposals provide little support to help our schools keep up with inflation, let alone compete with other states.

A new survey of Iowa school superintendents reports that the Governor’s budget would send our schools in the wrong direction, resulting in fired teachers, overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks and fewer choices for Iowa students. In fact, all survey respondents said they oppose the Governor’s plan to provide less than 1 percent in additional state aid to schools for the 2015-16 school year.

When asked what the impact would be on their students, 75 percent said they would increase class sizes, 74 percent said they would fire teachers, 71 percent said they would delay buying new classroom materials, and 70 percent said they would reduce course offerings.

School superintendents believe the Branstad budget would limit the opportunities of tens of thousands of Iowa students. Iowa is competing with the world for high-skill, high-wage jobs. That means great local schools have never been more important to our families and our state’s economic future.


The Legislature and Governor must make sure that every child gets the best education possible so that all Iowans can compete for the jobs of the future. This session, that means increasing the state’s commitment to public schools, students and teachers.

The good news is that in spite of shortfalls in school funding, Iowa teachers and students are doing pretty well at maintaining levels of academic success. The bad news is that other states are increasing student achievement faster than Iowa and out-performing us.

A report by the Iowa Department of Education notes that:

• Iowa has slipped from one of the highest-performing states in the nation to the middle of the pack in student achievement.

• Iowa’s performance on national assessments is stagnant for low- and high-achieving students.

• Students who face challenges perform significantly behind their peers. This includes kids whose first language is not English, who have special needs or who come from low-income families.

The Iowa’s Condition of Education Report for 2013 shows that Iowa has one of the highest graduation rates in the nation, and the number of students in preschool, advanced placement and community college courses is climbing. Unfortunately, standardized assessments of student achievement show Iowa only making slight gains over the last 12 years, while other states are taking greater strides.

In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 2013 ranked Iowa 21st for 4th grade reading, 14th for 4th grade math, 20th for 8th grade reading and 25th for 8th grade math. In the 1990s, Iowa scored in the top 10 nationwide.

It’s clear that student achievement trends mirror education investment trends. Imagine the successes our students and teachers could achieve if Iowa boosted school funding per student to the national average! The message is clear: we need to restore bipartisan support for the idea that Iowa’s future depends on high-quality local schools.

Notice Of Public Hearing On HF 80

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa Legislature
Public Hearings
Legislative Services Agency – Legislative Information Office –

HF 80 – A bill for an act establishing the state percent of growth and including effective date
provisions. (Formerly HSB 58)
Sponsored by the Education Committee –
Monday, January 26, 2015
7:00 PM (introductions begin)
After introductions, the hearing will be for two hours in the RM 103.

General Requirements:

Speaking time per individual for the public hearing on HF 80 will be 3 minutes (written testimony is encouraged but not required). Written testimony or comments maybe emailed to

The cut off time to sign up to speak is 5 p.m. on Monday the 26th.

Persons wishing to speak or leave comments available to the public via the legislative website may sign up electronically at Public Hearings.

You may also sign up at the Legislative Information Office (LIO), Room G16, located in the Iowa State Capitol or call 515-281-5129 if you have questions. Please do not leave a recorded message by telephone.

Meghan Nelson, MPA
Assistant Chief Clerk
Iowa House of Representatives

Iowa Superintendents Reject Branstad Education Budget


Iowa House Democrats Rank High In Gender Equity

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa State Capitol

Gender Disparity in State Houses

There is still much work to be done if women are to achieve overall gender equity in representative democracy leadership.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith put out an e-newsletter that announced a remarkable statistic. For the 2015 legislative session, 49% of the House Democratic caucus was composed of women, making it one of the most gender-balanced state bodies in the nation.

But this is a narrow statistic, and though twenty-one of the forty-three Democrats in the Iowa House are women, only six of fifty-six Republican state house representatives are women (11%).

The numbers of women in the Iowa Senate are much worse. While six of twenty-six Democratic Senators are women (23%), just one out of twenty-four Senate Republicans are women (4%). Altogether, 22.7% of Iowa legislators are women, behind the national average of 24.4%. Right now there are thirty-four women who have gaveled in for the 2015 session of the Iowa legislature, one behind the record high of thirty-five women who served in the 2009 and 2014 sessions.

Iowa Democrats seem to do a better job of selecting women to be in its caucus leadership. Democrat Pam Jochum is the Senate President, and two of the four assistant majority leaders and three committee chairs are women. The only female Republican senator, Amy St. Clair, while not selected as a leader in her caucus, is a minority chair on the Education Committee.

In the Republican controlled House, only one woman is in leadership, Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, and three Republican women are Committee Chairs. Eight Democratic women serve as ranking members of committees.

How do women fare in other states?

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, approximately 1,785 women will serve in the 50 state legislatures in the 2015 legislative session, essentially no change from the proportion in the 2014 sessions. Iowa ranks ahead of seventeen states, but behind thirty-two states.

Nebraska has the fewest women in raw numbers with only ten women elected to its legislature. Since this is the only state with non-partisan elections, one wonders if women would have better or worse chances if associated with a party? Of the 1,785 women serving this year in state legislatures, 1073 are Democrats, 698 are Republicans, four are third party, and ten are those “non-partisan” Nebraskans.

Louisiana has the lowest percentage rate with only 12.5% of its legislators who are women, followed closely by Oklahoma with 12.8%.

Colorado has the highest rate with 42% of its legislators who are women, followed by Vermont with 41.1%. New Hampshire leads the way with one hundred twenty-two women in its extraordinarily large legislature.

Illinois is 31% female, Minnesota is 33%, Missouri is 24.4%, Wisconsin is 25%, and South Dakota is 21%.

The strangest part of all these numbers, however, is that when women run for office, they actually do quite well. According to Political Parity:

“Conventional wisdom often holds that women candidates have a more difficult path to elected office than their male counterparts. However, recent studies of the performance of women candidates demonstrate that they fare the same as, if not better than, men in similar races. The greatest issue in increasing the ranks of women to elected office is the significant lack of female candidates.”

Since voters seem to have no problem electing women, both parties, as well as non-partisans need to do a much better job of recruiting women to run for office.

Tracy Leone
Iowa Federation of Labor

What If The Governor Gave A Speech And Nobody Cared?

cat care-o-meter“Vice President Joe Biden often says ‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.’ The Governor’s budget is a perfect example of Iowa values not being reflected in a state budget,” said Citizens for a Healthy Iowa Executive Director Mark Langgin.

 “Governor Branstad doesn’t place a high value on investing in our natural resources to protect sources of clean drinking water and water for recreation & industry. There are over 600 impaired rivers, lakes and streams statewide, and source water from Iowa’s largest city contains dangerously high levels of nitrate. We need sustained long-term funding for clean water – and investing less than 25 cents per acre in dedicated water quality money is not enough to protect Iowans health and quality of life.”

Progress Iowa Executive Director Matt Sinovic issued the following statement In response to the Governor’s remarks, which also failed to mention poverty or minimum wage:

“Governor Branstad failed middle class Iowans today. He refused to even say the words ‘middle class’ while at the same time heaping praise on a number of out of state corporations. The Governor’s priorities are completely out of step with everyday Iowans, who know that the foundation of our economy and our state’s success is a strong and growing middle class.”

“Governor Branstad’s distorted jobs math proves that he has no respect for working Iowans. The Governor inflates the number of jobs created by not counting jobs that have been lost, insulting every Iowan who has lost work during his term in office. An accurate accounting of Iowa’s job growth is less than half as many as the Governor claims.”

“The Governor also refused to bring up a minimum wage increase, or acknowledge the 300,000 workers who would benefit from an increase. Unfortunately, minimum wage workers in Iowa have waited longer than those in any other state for a raise.”

“Governor Branstad’s refusal to mention the middle class, poverty, or minimum wage during his Condition of the State address today was disappointing but not surprising. His failure to prioritize the needs of middle class working families has never been more clear.”

Paul Deaton took a larger, more philosophical view on the Governor’s remarks, so today we give Paul and Plato the last word.

A couple of progressive web commenters complained that Branstad used fallacious job creation numbers and made no mention of “middle class priorities” like increasing the minimum wage. There was a decided lack of interest in the speech, so few were likely listening to the commentators or the governor.

No one is listening. There is a lack of interest in government among a middle class that makes up most of 3.1 million Iowans. If some have their interests, written on a legislative agenda, most do not. The disinterest goes beyond what the 86th Iowa General Assembly does or does not accomplish.

The bubble in which we Americans live is real and is becoming the ridicule of the world. It is as if we took what’s best about our country and locked it up in a strongbox to protect it from those who might steal it. We venture from our borders to loot planetary resources, wage war and assert hegemony where we can. We have become exceptional in these things and our culture is the less for it.

Plaato quote


Iowa Legislative Session 2015: Democrats Advocate For Kids, Environment, Rural Broadband

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa State Capitol

According to WHO-TV there are several pre-filed bills already waiting  including a bill that would ban phone calls while driving:

“The Department of Public Safety is suggesting legislation to update the texting ban. It would make it illegal for you to use your phone for just about everything while driving — emails, making calls, making video calls, and using the internet.  You would still be able to use GPS and make calls with hands free devices. 

Legislators are also expected to work on the gas tax, bullying, and the state’s budget.”

Not mentioned in the story is what the Iowa Firearms Coalition is thinking:

“On January 12th we begin a new legislative session, and with the NRA and your help we plan to chart new territory. In recent years we’ve had limited success passing pro-2nd Amendment bills. It’s not because those bills lacked strong support. On the contrary, they generally had a huge backing. But one anti-gun legislator, Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids, held a key position in the legislature, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. From there he used procedural measures to block every bill that the Iowa Firearms Coalition and the NRA supported.

This year things are going to be different though. Rob Hogg is no longer the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s been replaced by Steve Sodders of State Center. Sodders is a Marshall County Sheriff’s Deputy. In recent years he’s supported some of our bills. But he’s also opposed others. Let’s make sure Steve Sodders knows full well that Iowans believe strongly in our 2nd Amendment rights and will fight any attempt to infringe on those rights.”

Gun people and the NRA believe that their right to feel safe by carrying a gun trumps everyone else’s right to actually be safe from gun violence.  Progressives, you too can contact Democrat Steve Sodders and exercise your first amendment right to free speech.  And if you haven’t done so yet, how about we all send a thank-you to Senator Rob Hogg?

Democrats’ legislative agenda:

After three mentions in one article of how they fully intend to cooperate with the GOP (thus defeating the purpose by inadvertantly communicating that they, not the GOP,  are the problem), and placating the media by pretending to agree that we all are begging for “tax relief,” Democrats did reveal a sensible, people and environment-friendly agenda.

“The Democratic legislative agenda includes increasing access to preschool for 4-year-olds, helping Iowa companies land state contracts, and making sure private-sector workers aren’t cheated out of their wages by unscrupulous employers.

The priority list also proposes providing more worker training at community colleges, expanding access to broadband services for Iowans in rural and underserved areas; and encouraging the production and use of renewable energy, such as biofuels, wind and solar.”   Des Moines Register

Thank you Iowa Democrats for sane ideas. Now please work on better messaging and better framing of the issues.

Good luck in 2015!


Bolkcom Predicts Challenging Legislative Session

bolkcom_banner_newsAnd now a word from State Senator from Iowa City, Joe Bolkcom.

Happy New Year!

The 2015 Legislative session kicks off on Monday! I am looking forward to getting back to work at the Statehouse. It is always good to see colleagues, staff and even lobbyists! There are several newly elected Senators that will begin work as well. I will be taking the oath of office on Monday for the start of my fifth term. I maintained all of my current committee assignments for the coming two years, and I will continue to serve as the Senate Majority Whip.

It will be a challenging session. Governor Branstad’s overly generous commercial and industrial property tax cuts and tens of millions in tax giveaways to large corporations have depleted our state revenues. This will make it extremely hard to adequately fund our local schools, mental health care needs of vulnerable children, support for higher education, clean water or anything else that needs attention. Republicans are calling for both cutting budgets and more tax cuts!

Some of my priorities include getting tough on Iowa’s number one crime, wage theft. I will also be advocating for the strongest appropriation for our local schools and higher education. I will be working to increase enrollment in our Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, and to change the Board of Regent’s ill-conceived Performance Based Budgeting proposal. I will continue to work on getting access to medical cannabis for suffering Iowans. I will also press for conservation funding to address soil erosion and water quality. There is no shortage of issues in 2015!

Please feel free to contact me on any issue of interest. My best email address during session is


Sign up for health insurance through Feb. 15

If you’re looking for health insurance, you can enroll through the Healthcare Marketplace until February 15. Sign up online at, through the call center at 1-800-318-2596 or in person. To find in-person assistance from someone who can explain coverage options and walk you through the enrollment process, visit

If you’re enrolled in a 2014 plan through the Healthcare Marketplace, your coverage ends December 31, 2014. To continue health coverage in 2015, you can renew your current health plan or choose a new plan. Find out more at

Keep in mind that you can enroll in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) any time. In addition, small businesses can start offering coverage to employees any time.
College students can help businesses reduce pollution

College students are invited to apply for the 2015 Pollution Prevention Intern Program. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides funding for the summer internships and matches volunteer host companies with students. This year, 14 upper-level engineering students helped 14 Iowa host companies reduce waste, conserve water and energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the program. Environmental reductions achieved with 2014 intern efforts include:

• 440,276 gallons of water

• 1,351 tons of solid and special waste

• 219 tons of hazardous waste

• 1.5 million kilowatt hours

• 7,316 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents

Further information and application materials are available at

Operation AmeriCorps grants tackle community concerns

Through January 13, applications are being accepted for Operation AmeriCorps program grants. Operation AmeriCorps is a new program to address a community’s most pressing local problem. Through Operation AmeriCorps, local leaders identify a high-priority local challenge that AmeriCorps can address within a two-year timeframe. The proposed solution may be a new initiative, or it may use national service to scale up an existing successful effort.

The grant competition is open to tribal and local governments, including counties, cities, towns and school districts, as well as Councils of Governments and non-profit regional development authorities. For more information and application materials, go to
Grants provide legal assistance to low-income Iowans

Through March 5, applications are being accepted for grants from the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account. The grants are awarded to public purpose projects that provide legal services to low-income people in civil cases, law-related education and other programs that improve justice in Iowa. Grant applications and complete details are available at

The Iowa Supreme Court created the Lawyer Trust Account to provide legal services using the interest from lawyers’ pooled trust accounts. The lawyers’ pooled trust accounts hold clients’ funds that are so small in amount or held for such a brief period that it is not possible for the funds to benefit individual clients. Since the first awards were made in 1986, the program has granted more than $24 million.

Awards for Excellence in History seeks nominations

The State Historical Society of Iowa is seeking nominations for its Awards for Excellence in History programs, which recognize individuals, organizations and communities that made outstanding contributions to Iowa history during 2014. Five awards recognize publications, local history initiatives and significant, long-term achievement in Iowa history.

Nominations are due February 1. More information can be found at or by contacting the State Historical Society of Iowa at 515-281-5111.

Regents’ Proposed Revenue Model A Lose-Lose For Iowa Universities

universitiesFor deep background, first click here and go read the historic Powell Memo (also known as the Powell Manifesto), which “essentially marks the beginning of the business community’s multi-decade collective takeover of the most important institutions of public opinion and democratic decision-making” specifically including higher education.  The Powell Memo is divided into ten sections.  Note Section 1.

  • The Campus
  • Television
  • Other Media (radio/newspapers)
  • Books, Paperbacks And Pamphlets
  • Paid Advertisements
  • The Neglected Political Arena
  • Neglected Opportunity In The Courts
  • Neglected Stockholder Power
  • A More Aggressive Attitude
  • Quality Control Is Essential
  • Relaltionship To Freedom

In 1971, conservatives became greatly alarmed by liberal thought that tended to be quite prevalent on college campuses.  Conservatives believed capitalism was in danger and the Powell Memo served as the conservative blue print to launch a decades-long attack on the institutions of democracy by infiltrating them with corporate-friendly ideas. It is scary to read because as you read it, you can easily see how they have done exactly what they set out to do in weakening the pillars of democracy –  education, the media, the courts, elections, etc., over the last 40-odd years.

Last year, the American Association of University Professors also identified the odd and troublesome resurgence of PBF (Performance-Based Funding) and embarked to find out what was driving it. What they found was quite interesting.

“The conceptual framework above has driven our most recent exploratory analyses with higher education researcher Austin Lacy exploring the factors associated with state adoption of performance-funding policies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our work suggests that partisan politics have been playing a prominent role in performance-funding adoptions, in the context of statistical controls for a variety of other factors: all else being equal, states with greater Republican representation in the legislature have been significantly more likely to adopt performance funding. It appears that stricter accountability policies and the use of market-like incentives have greater appeal on the political right, making the adoption of a performance-funding policy more likely in “red” states.

Increasingly, though, some questions are arising, along with some discontent. Do allocations under such policies adequately reflect the major differences in institutional missions and the kinds of students served, or are they exacerbating inequalities in institutional funding? Are available data sufficient for the task of making funding distinctions? Such approaches may tend to highlight certain performance indicators at the expense of others for their ease of measurement, rather than their importance to the public and their value in serving the public good. Also, these approaches may be seen on campuses as undermining campus autonomy and the professional judgments of on-campus leaders, faculty, and staff. Indeed, performance-funding mandates present an interesting paradox: the programs, coming on the heels of an era during which many states sought to empower campuses by decentralizing certain functions formerly overseen by state-level authorities, serve as a mechanism whereby state officials have recently strengthened their hand over the direction of campuses. There is a risk, too, that quality may actually decline under such regimes if indicators value output volume more than output quality—take the simple example of eased graduation standards producing larger graduating classes that, in turn, lead to decreased per-student educational expenditures.”   more

 Do your homework first. Go read the Powell Memo.  Then consider what the Regents, the Branstad administration, and ALEC are trying to do to education now.  Posted below is the UI’ evaluation of the Regents’ proposal. Draw your own conclusions.

The following is a summary by a University of Iowa faculty member of Gary Fethke’s evaluation of the Regents’ proposed revenue model. The model would have to be approved by the Iowa legislature before it is enacted.


Evaluating the performance-based revenue model adopted by the Board of Regents

by Gary Fethke
June 4, 2014

In his article, Dean Fethke summarizes how the Regents’ proposed performance-based funding model will affect the State’s Universities and higher education in Iowa. It is not “Iowa dollars for Iowa kids” as it first seems. Instead, the proposed funding model incentivizes each Regents’ University to seek out Iowa students at the expense of the other two Universities.[1]  It promotes a war for students in which all three Universities, the State and the students all lose.

The following points summarize his observations:

1. Under the funding plan, Dean Fethke estimates that the University of Iowa would lose $47.8 million annually.

a. This is a 21.5% reduction in the University of Iowa’s state appropriation.
b. The cut is equivalent to laying off 500 to 700 full time employees.
c. To offset this under the model, the University would have to add roughly 5,000 new resident students.[2]

2. The funding model creates an arms race by rewarding each University for more resident students, but ONLY at the expense of the other two Universities. If resident enrollment increases at all three State Universities, the allocation is unaffected and the allocation per student actually falls. With fixed total funding awarded in proportion to relative numbers of resident students, each University individually has incentives to (1) reduce resident tuition, (2) lower entry standards, (3) increase non-resident tuition to further subsidize residents, and/or (4) cut back on high-cost programs that have high value to the state. Dean Fethke studies each option in turn.

3. Changing resident tuition is not effective. For each individual University, decreasing resident tuition may attract students. However, Dean Fethke estimates that a $1,000 reduction in resident tuition would cost the University of Iowa $8.4 million even after accounting for the increased state allocation according to the model.[3]   Alternatively, the University could increase resident tuition to offset lost revenue. To offset the projected loss in funds the first year alone ($11.2 million), the University would have to increase resident tuition by nearly 18%. As a result,resident enrollment would likely drop by 6%. Additional increases, with even lower resident enrollment, would follow each year as the cuts are fully implemented. This is the opposite of the revenue model’s intentions.

4. Lowering entry standards is not effective. For each individual University, lowering entry standards would promote higher enrollment, initially attracting students from the other two Universities.4  But, the other Universities would have to respond in kind to compete, ultimately lowering standards and quality across the board with no ultimate effect on funding allocations. If total resident enrollment rises under lower standards, then the allocation per student falls. Thus, the plan promotes a race to the bottom.

5. Increasing non-resident tuition to cover the losses is not effective. Raising non-resident tuition is infeasible for UNI and has limits for ISU and UI. Further, many non-resident students remain in Iowa after graduation, offsetting Iowa students who leave the state for college or leave upon graduation. Increasing non-resident tuition would reduce this valuable source of “brain gain” and actually accelerate brain drain. This runs counter to the plan’s intentions of promoting an educated young Iowa workforce.

6. Cutting back on high-cost programs is feasible, but reduces the value of each University and the University of Iowa in particular to the State. The revenue model does not consider costs of different programs fairly. It costs more to educate students in numerous UI programs not offered at the other Universities (e.g., law, dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, etc.). Because the programs differ across the Universities, the average annual cost of educating a student at UI, ISU and UNI differ: $20,317, $13,932 and $13,182, respectively. The current allocations from the Regents represent 67%, 62% and 57% of these costs, respectively.[5 ]  The new allocation would make it 53%, 70% and 73%, clearly heavily favoring ISU and UNI.[2] Under the funding model, UI could (in fact, would be forced to) alter its cost structure by shifting to lower cost programs, but then no resident students would be able to study in areas such as law, dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, etc. This will lead to increased costs for Iowa students who much pursue these degrees out-of-state and likely lead to shortages of professionals in the state. In addition to UI, both other Universities would have similar incentives to cut high-cost, but high-value, programs reducing their value to the State.

Dean Fethke argues that the best solution for the State is to create a revenue model that promotes healthy competition between the Universities, not a war for students. Barring that, he argues that the UI needs to pursue greater autonomy from the State, including the ability to set its own tuition to (1) balance the needs of the State for the programs offered with the costs and (2) balance resident and nonresident tuitions with program costs, supply and demand.


1 In fact, if each University increases resident enrollment while leaving the proportions across Universities unchanged, the funding model allocates EXACTLY the same total amount to each University with a LOWER subsidy for each Iowa student. Lower state subsidies will lead to tuition increases and HIGHER COSTS for Iowa students and families. This is the opposite of the revenue model’s intentions.

2 To put this in context, in 2012, the Department of Education estimated that 20,342 Iowa high school graduates went on for further education in Iowa while 3,145 went out-of-state. In total, 6,930 new resident freshmen
enrolled at the three state Universities. Source: U.S. Department of Education IPEDS Data Center

3 This assumes that ISU and UNI do not respond with lower tuitions themselves. If they do, the losses to all Universities increase

4 Lowering entry standards may have adverse long run revenue effects. It is likely to reduce the graduation rate in the long run. A lower graduation rate would decrease funding according to the Regents’ revenue model and offset some of any gains achieved from higher enrollment.

5 These numbers are calculated from the numbers in Dean Fethke’s report, but do not appear in it directly.

Are Iowa Republicans Supporting Wage Theft?

Sen. Joe BolkcomWage Theft: Iowa’s Number One Crime

Reprinted with permission from the Prairie Progressive

by Joe Bolkcom

It might seem hard to believe but some Iowa employers are regularly stealing from their employees. It’s a problem in Johnson County and across Iowa. A recent Iowa Policy Project report suggests that unscrupulous Iowa employers are robbing Iowa workers of $600 million annually.

Iowans work hard for every dollar they earn. It should not be stolen from them by their employers. In the fall of 2013, Kossiwa Agbenowossi worked at the Outback Steakhouse in Coralville. She worked hard 7 days a week, scrubbing the dining area, kitchen, and bathroom to support her children. Months and months passed without her being paid for her work.

Thanks to the tenacious organizing work done by the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, Kossiwa finally got paid for the 49 days of work cleaning the now out-of –business steakhouse. After waiting a year and-a-half to be paid, Agbenowossi received the $2,346 an Outback cleaning subcontractor owed her.

This is a classic case of wage theft, when workers aren’t paid the wages they are legally owed. Studies say it’s a growing epidemic in Iowa, and across the country.  The difference in this case is that Kossiwa had the incredible support of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa.  They organized public protests at Outback, and filed complaints on her behalf with the U.S. Department of Labor and Iowa Workforce Development. Most cases of wage theft do not result in the worker getting paid.

Wage theft affects us all. Not only are these employers taking advantage of their employees, they are also not paying withholding taxes, worker compensation, or unemployment insurance. They are cheating the system while good employers
and every taxpayer subsidize this deplorable practice.

Iowa has some of the weakest wage enforcement laws in the country with virtually no penalties or enforcement when cases are reported to Iowa Workforce Development. Until last year the department had just one wage investigator to address concerns of our state’s 1.3 million private sector employees. That’s why last year Iowa Senate Democrats insisted on and got funding to add a second wage investigator.

Iowa Senate Democrats have introduced and approved legislation several times over the past few years to establish better safeguards to ensure Iowans get paid and allow investigators to more easily go after businesses that fail to pay what they owe. The bills called for better record keeping, stronger penalties and retaliation protections for workers.

Unfortunately, these legislative efforts have been stymied due to intense lobby efforts by some of Iowa’s largest and most powerful business associations including the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Grocers Association, and the Federation of Iowa Insurers. They have fought the legislation for six years. Moreover, it has no support from Governor Branstad, House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen, or most Republicans. They appear to not care that taxpaying Iowa workers are getting their money stolen from them.

The vast majority of Iowa’s employers is honest and ethical and has nothing to worry about. The legislation simply requires them to provide the terms of employment to their employees in writing and keep a copy on file. This protects both the employer and the worker if there is a disagreement.

It is long past time to protect Iowa workers from the disgraceful practices of some Iowa employers. It’s time to get tough on wage thieves!

To learn more about the problem of wage theft in Iowa, visit

–State Senator Joe Bolkcom
lives in Iowa City.

prairie-dog-logoReprinted with permission from the December 2014 issue of  The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr.!!  Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.

Say Hello To ALEC’s Little Brother, ACCE

just in case legislators forget what to do

just in case legislators forget what to do

Maybe you missed it because there was no birth announcement. The lack of a birth announcement is probably due to the fact that the parents, Charles and David Koch and their corporate concubines don’t want anyone to know. Just like ACCE’s bigger brother, ALEC, ACCE works best behind closed doors and under a rock. ACCE stands for “American City County Exchange.” This will allow the Koch to – shall we say – get involved in your local city councils and county government.

If the Kochs and their lackey congress critters can’t turn the government over to business at the national level, they will work to do so at the state level through their lackey legislatures. And now if they can’t turn government into their personal servant at the national or state level, they now have a new surreptitious organization to corrupt at the local level. If you feel that government is becoming responsive only to those with money, you are right. This is just what the Kochs want. After all they have the money and lots of friends with money.

ALEC and ACCE just completed a session meeting behind closed doors with corporate biggies rubbing elbows with legislators and now supervisors and councillors. Playing kind of a reverse Santa Claus where Santa sits on the knee of the legislators asking for presents. Later there will be campaign donations in a world where campaigns are conducted mostly on the expensive media.

While ALEC seldom announces their want list, we can make some informed guesses. However, the ALEC watchdog group at the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) PR Watch published what they believed to be on this year’s wish list. So from the the CMD, here is an educated forecast for what we may soon see popping up as “model legislation” for legislatures around the country:

Blocking Local Minimum Wage Increases
Citizens in red states like Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota voted overwhelmingly in favor of raising their state’s minimum wage on November 4, as did Republican and Democratic voters in states like Wisconsin, where twenty communities supported advisory referendums in favor of raising the wage.

With such a clear divide between the policies that voters support and those that ALEC corporate interests like the National Restaurant Association (which has been fighting for a $2.13 sub-minimum wage) want legislators to implement, the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force will feature a presentation on “Minimum Wage Preemption Policies.”

ALEC has long pushed bills like the “Living Wage Preemption Act” to block city, county, or local governments from enacting progressive economic initiatives like a higher minimum wage. In light of the renewed grassroots push for fair wage laws, this bill to crush a local government’s ability to increase wages in their community will likely be a top ALEC priority in 2015. (ALEC legislators have also been active in banning local paid sick day efforts, passing 10 laws after Wisconsin’s paid sick days preemption bill was shared at ALEC’s August 2011 meeting).

Local Right to Work

The ACCE meeting will also feature a presentation titled “Local Right to Work: Protect my Paycheck.” ALEC has long pushed anti-union “Right to Work” laws, which allow non-union members to free-ride on union representation, reaping the benefits of union negotiations for wages and benefits but without paying the costs. Michigan’s right to work law, for example, was a word-for-word copy of ALEC’s model legislation and sponsored by ALEC members.

With ACCE, ALEC is now trying to promote this anti-union legislation at the local level.

In September, the Washington Examiner reported that “Conservatives are starting to push the idea that city and county governments can pass union-restricting right-to-work laws, even though it may not be legal and has been tried only a handful of times in the last 70 years.” It is unclear whether local governments have the authority to pass right to work under the Taft-Hartley National Labor Relations Act, but in August the Heritage Foundation issued a report arguing that they do. Heritage hosted a panel discussion on local right to work in August featuring representatives of ACCE, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, and highlighted what they viewed as opportunities for local ordinances in Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Those are the two top wishes, but of course business asks for a big package which will also include:

Depriving Low-Wage Workers of Health Insurance

Electronic cigarettes – stopping legislation on vaping nicotine

Protesting “Global Taxes” on Tobacco

Regulating Ride-Share Companies – exempting Uber and Lyft from common carrier laws

Industry-Friendly Dental Bills – moving dental services to less trained “practitioners”

Rigging the Game for Insurers – pretty self explanatory

Free Trade! – again self-explanatory

School Privatization – one of ALEC’s perennials, but once more carving out new areas for business to control. From the article: As one ALEC member told an ALEC education subcommittee earlier this year, “we need to stamp out local control.”

Please go to the link and read the sickening details of how the Kochs and their compadres plan to subvert our government for their business interests.