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Iowa Legislature

Is This Hell? Not Yet But It Will Be If The Iowa Legislature Legalizes Fireworks

dog with ears covered 2Yes it will be hell for dogs, veterans with PTSD, children and parents of children who are injured, not to mention the hell of further poisoning Iowa’s groundwater, if Iowa lawmakers legalize fireworks.   Nobody needs fireworks.  You can go see a fireworks display on the 4th of July.  This will do nothing but degrade the quality of life in Iowa.  Contact your senator, write a letter to the editor. 

Here is a great sample letter by BFIA’s Dave Bradley.  Spread the word!


I sent this to my rep (Sands) and senator (Courtney):

Just heard that there is a bill to legalize fireworks going through the legislature.
I am at a loss to understand why grown ups would legalize these little bits of dynamite that will inflict pain and suffering.

We already have plenty of injuries with fireworks every year. This would only increase it dramatically as it would be putting the state seal of approval on private use of fireworks.

If keeping injuries down, especially to children isn’t important, please think of veterans who have returned from war and are extremely sensitive to the noises and lights of war.

I can only guess there is some group in Iowa looking to make a quick buck off this. Making bucks off the injuries and fear that fireworks cause just doesn’t seem to fit with Iowa’s culture.

Thank you for your time.

What Is Wage Theft?

It’s happening in Iowa.

Students Deliver 7,000+ Signatures To Governor Branstad

On February 18th, 2015, nursing students from Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, escorted by State Senator Rich Taylor, delivered a petition with over 7,000 signatures to Governor Terry Branstad’s office, asking the Governor not to close the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute.

CBD Oil In Iowa – When?

marijuana gavel
Last year Iowa seemed to take a major step into the 20th century when parents and friends of child epileptic patients made an almost irrefutable case for medical cannabis in Iowa. Governor Branstad backed it as did most of the legislature. In a rare show of bipartisanship, a bill was written up, passed both houses overwhelmingly and was signed quickly by the governor.

Problem solved? Nope! Those in need could now use medical cannabis in Iowa, they just couldn’t legally obtain it. So despite all the good press and the kumbya feelings all around, they had accomplished nothing. So one would think that correcting this oversight and actually making medical cannabis available to those who desperately need it would be a high priority. Think again. This is the Iowa legislature we are talking about.

At last week’s legislative forum in Muscatine, Shelly Van Winkle, a veteran, a nurse and a sufferer from fibromyalgia – which can be extremely painful – raised the question to legislators – when will Iowa make it possible for sufferers to actually legally obtain medical cannabis oil in Iowa? She came with a powerful handout showed pictures of Iowans for whom medical cannabis in the non psychoactive form of cannabidiol (CBD) oil, could be a major help. As I looked over the pictures I was stunned to see a friend of mine among the pictures. Unfortunately any help he may have gotten will be too late. He had just died from cancer a day before. Could medical cannabis or CBD oil have helped? We will never know. From what I have read, the answer is unequivocally yes.

Opponents seem to point to one argument only. Marijuana, a member of the cannabis family, has a psychoactive effect when smokes or ingested. However, CBD oil has little to no psychoactive properties. This concern was immediately raised by Rep. Tom Sands (R-88). While study on the effects of medical cannabis and CBD oil has been somewhat stymied by the fear of the psychoactive effects of cannabis especially in the US, there is mounting evidence that shows that CBD oil could be a major player in medicine.

Those opposing CBD oil seem to be grounded in the propaganda of Harry Anslinger from the 1930s. This propaganda was based on racism, fear, and some protection of corporate profits. Throw in a very memorable movie called “Reefer Madness” and you have the ingredients of an irrational reason for opposing legalizing medical cannabis.

For those who have never seen it, here is the 70 minute epic known as “Reefer Madness”

But there are also those who have a monetary stake in keeping medical cannabis illegal. This is one of those “politics makes strange bedfellows” groupings. Folks who stand to lose should medical cannabis or cannabis in general is legalized includes police unions, prison guard unions and privatized prisons, alcohol companies, and good old Big Pharma.

The list of diseases that, given a chance, that CBD oil could offer some effective help with ranges from the aforementioned epilepsy and the pain of fibromyalgia along with diseases such as Crohn’s Disease, chronic back pain and arthritis, traumatic brain injury and Parkinson’s disease.

Hopefully in a couple years this issue will be behind us and we can be talking about allowing farmers to grow hemp for industrial use. Another policy that is grounded in the fear of marijuana spread by Harry Anslinger and still quite alive today. Iowa’s farmers are missing a good bet by not growing industrial hemp.

Until then, here is a little chart that shows which drugs really cause us problems when driving.


Prepping For An Alec Agenda In Iowa

Pretty much every Saturday during the Iowa legislative session elected members of both houses convene at venues throughout the state and take comments and questions from the public. If you happen to have both Republican (Tea Party) and Democrats representing your area you can hear some pretty wide gulfs in opinion. Also if you listen closely enough you can hear the repetition of talking points and framing coming particularly from the Republican side of the aisle.

Last Saturday there was a legislative forum which featured 3 Democratic state senators and 3 Republican state representatives. There was a true contrast in how budgeting in general and for schools and road repair in particular are viewed. As can almost be expected I found most interesting the Tea Party representatives framing of issues. In particular the framing by Rep. Tom Sands was most telling. Sands heads up the Ways and Means committee thus making him a very powerful legislator since all spending must be approved by his committee.

For the most part there were questions abou the possibility of getting our roads and bridges fixed. They are bad, folks. Iowa ranks number 48 out of 50 for bridge integrity. We could wait until a bridge collapses and kills some folks before getting them fixed. Or we could do like we used to in the olden days – before Reagan – and have an ongoing maintenance program. The latter is not popular among the no tax crowd.

With bridges in such bad shape and roads obviously sorely in need of repair and an estimate of a $215 million shortfall this year for road repair, one would think that finding money to fix roads or upping the gas tax would be quite popular. Not true. Democratic legislators expressed support for raising the gas tax, provided such a tax is supported by a majority of Republicans. Republicans were much more hesitant. Rep. Sands went into a diatribe concerning taxes and the federal government ending with a really unsubstantiated charge of the economy being weak because of Obama. Sands was clearly against any new tax, citing the major tax cuts in previous years

School funding issues brought out the real anti-tax guns, though. Once again Rep. Sands led the anti-tax / state can’t afford it talking points. Sands noted that the state was not even liable for the mandated 1.25%. Democrat Chris Brace noted later that if a district falls short of the mandate they can assess local property owners. Democrats were solid in supporting a 4% allowable growth increase.

If Republicans have their way, Iowa will fall further down the list of per pupil spending from 35th to 42nd. This in a state that once set the standards for the country. Now we land in the middle and continue to head down. At public hearings held January 26th many potential problems of continued underfunding were pointed out. Larger class sizes and cutting of faculty were the top consequences. Many school will be looking at cutting electives which may put more pressure on Iowa students entering college.

Democrats work on a philosophy of determining public need and then developing means to achieve those needs. Republicans develop policies that favor their donors, develop legislation to implement those policies and then create the environment that could make such legislation applicable.

This is hardly a secret since it has been employed over and over again. This is where an organization like ALEC comes into play. ALEC is a a corporate funded entity. ALEC’s mission is to develop corporate friendly legislation. One often used strategy is to make governmental services seem incompetent, overpaid and costly to run. ALEC then has legislation to replace such government service with a private company alternative that is supposedly more responsive and nimble and reputedly cheaper. At the federal level we can see this at work in the way in which Republicans are going about a systematic dismantling of the U.S. Post Office. We can also see it at work in the attempted dismantling of Social Security and Medicare. We can see it at work in the attempt to defund the ACA.

So here on an Iowa level we see the Republican attempt to under fund our once proud school system. As the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and also a member of ALEC, Rep. Sands sits in a prime spot to see that schools continue to be underfunded. When schools are underfunded they cannot achieve the goals set for them as easily. When such goals are not achieved, politicians with an agenda to siphon off money to private schools will be lining up to publicly denounce the under-achieving school systems. This will then result in less funding.

Along with this strategy will be a campaign to undermine teachers and of course teachers unions. All this helps set the stage for the ALEC answer of privatized charter schools as a component of the public school system. This solution has already been put in in many states under the guise of “school choice.”

Whether charter schools are better or not often lies in the eyes of the beholder. Many studies find them to be less effective than public schools. That doesn’t stop supporters from pushing the propaganda by highlighting positives and ignoring negatives

However, in many cases charter schools have many different rules to play by versus their public school counterparts. In many states charter schools are not run by local school boards but by the parent company. Their funding is public and often less adversarial than funding for public schools has been. Teachers wages are usually lower and unions are usually absent. In many cases schools have some say in who makes up their student body. But most importantly, the focus is not on student achievement but on corporate profit. Let the buyer beware!

Let’s connect the dots then:
– Republicans have a solution. The legislators task is to help create the circumstances where their preferred solution seems doable.
– It really helps to create those circumstances if one of your members holds a crucial seat in the budgeting process.
– Underfund the entity or process that is the target
– Quickly use media to point out the failure of the targeted entity or process
– Repeat until the targeted entity cracks
– Offer ALEC created legislation with preferred solution
– Legislation creates very friendly situation which helps chances of success
– Funding for privatized entity much easier than for public entity.
– Move to next target, repeat process

BTW – the legislature is already late in meeting their obligation for producing school funding. This also throws extra stress on the public schools in planning. Republicans just have to throw our schools anchors instead of life preservers as they sink.

Iowa Law Makers: “We Have No Money This Year”

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa State Capitol

Posted on Iowa Labor News,  an electronic newsletter for the Labor Movement, specifically in Iowa, sponsored by the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO

By Charlie Wishman
Secretary/Treasurer Iowa Federation of Labor

All over the capitol, you’ll hear the same refrain from legislators from both parties. “We have no money this year.” It’s amazing what short memories they have, since many of them helped to cause this situation. We warned them two years ago that if they passed the “Largest Tax Cut In Iowa History,” (which was a massive property tax cut for corporate Iowa) we’d be in trouble in a short amount of time. It hasn’t taken long, and the effects are starting to show.

The Governor and his party have made some dangerous choices in reaction to the situation. One example is that they have proposed closing the mental health institutes in Clarinda and in Mount Pleasant. Not only on the worker side is this problematic as they plan to close two of the larger (union) employers in these communities, just as with other short sided decisions like closing the Iowa Juvenile Home they don’t seem to have a workable plan as to what to do with the residents of the facilities.

Another example of bad budgeting is the Governor and his party proposing to seriously short change our education system, proposing a 1.25% increase in funding next year followed by a 2.45% increase the second year. These proposals fall far short of the 6% recommended by our friends at the Iowa State Education Association and lower than the Iowa Senate’s plan that includes a 4% increase.

There has been positive movement in the House Labor committee by holding several sub-committee hearings on the issue of payment to employees with pay cards (HSB94). More and more Iowans are being paid on a card of some kind, sometimes without knowing what charges the cards have when trying to use the money they earned. Is this bankers and employers working together to rip off workers? No matter what anyone’s motives are, this has led to a unique form of wage theft that needs to stop, and rules need to be in place so workers and employers both know what expectations the state has. There are many issues that need addressed about these cards because currently this form of wage payment is not addressed in the Iowa Code.

The fight for a livable wage took a bad turn this week, with Senate Democrats signaling they would settle for a much lower minimum wage than the $10.10 we and many other of our partners have advocated for. SSB1151 would only raise the minimum wage to $8.75 by 2016, which is still not enough for a family to live on. We should do better as a state, and Iowa Senate Democrats should be leaders on this issue.

Contact your state Representatives and Senators and let them know that working families need a higher minimum wage than $8.75, and that we need a budget that looks out for all Iowans – not just corporate interests.

If you don’t know them or how to contact them, you can find that here:

Local Schools, Middle Class, Health Care: The Courtney Report

Courtney Report

Ed. note: this is an excerpt from the newsletter from state Senator Tom Courtney. To read the full newsletter, please go to

This week, Iowa Senate Democrats announced a plan to increase state aid to schools to ensure that every Iowa child gets the best education possible and that they are prepared to compete for the jobs of the future.

Our plan calls for a 4 percent increase in basic state aid for Iowa schools for each of the next two school years. Our plan would reverse Iowa’s slide downwards in per-student investment. We are now 35th and falling. Other states are investing more and achieving better results than Iowa.

The House’s party-line vote for a 1.25 percent increase in school funding will continue Iowa’s slide even further downwards in per-student investment and student achievement.

Parents, students, educators and other concerned Iowans tell us that the funding approved by the Republican-controlled House is not enough to keep up with the cost of providing a high-quality experience in our local classrooms. School superintendents across the state say that their schools are facing larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, outdated materials and staff layoffs.

The House-passed version would also raise property taxes on many Iowans, while shortchanging our best and brightest students. We must do better.

Iowa has a shortage of skilled workers. Employers say it’s the No. 1 obstacle to growing our economy.

A new report from the Iowa Student Aid Commission highlights the need for training and education after high school. The Condition of Higher Education in Iowa 2014 reports that 36 percent of working-age Iowans hold an associate’s degree or higher, but 62 percent of all the jobs in the state by 2018 will require postsecondary education. In fact, seven out of the ten fastest growing occupations in Iowa require some education or training beyond high school.

Skilled workers are in demand because they are more productive, more adaptable and more able to meet the changing demands of the modern economy. The good news is that our community colleges are stepping in to provide the education and training Iowa workers can use to fill job openings. Iowa’s community colleges offer programs that meet state and regional economic needs.

Many Iowans have taken advantage of worker training programs at our community colleges. Iowa’s workforce today represents nearly 25 million credit hours and more than 138 million contact hours related to past and present community college training.

Those who make the commitment to improve their skills see a payoff. Community college students completing their degree have a 24 percent rate of return on their education investment in the first 10 years after completion. They make on average 18.4 percent more 10 years after completing their program than high school graduates.

Spending by Iowa community colleges and their students contributes to the creation of 18,000 jobs across the state and $684 million annually in income. Nearly 84 percent of Iowa’s community college students remain in Iowa after graduation, building a stronger workforce and growing our economy.

Becoming the healthiest state in the country isn’t just about eating nutritious foods and making time for exercise. Iowans also deserve access to affordable health insurance and good healthcare providers – doctors, nurses and others – in our local communities.

Unfortunately, Iowa lags behind much of the nation in healthcare workforce recruitment. In particular, compared to the rest of the nation, Iowa struggles to attract mental health professionals. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Iowa is ranked 44th in the nation for mental health workforce availability. Of particular note, Iowa ranks 46th for the number of psychiatrists per capita and 47th for the number of psychologists per capita.

The Senate Human Resources Committee recently heard a presentation from the Iowa Department of Public Health to better understand existing healthcare workforce training and recruitment programs. NAMI and the IowaCare Givers also presented ideas on ways to improve current programs. Recommendations ranged from making programs at the Department of Public Health more efficient and effective to establishing more residency programs for doctors after they complete their medical training.

Iowa recently redesigned its local mental health and disability services system, and now we must take the necessary steps to train and attract high-quality health care providers who can offer services to Iowans in every corner of the state.

The Governor’s proposal to close the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant makes the need even more urgent.

The Iowa Alliance for Arts Education sponsored its second annual Fine Arts Advocacy Day at the Iowa Statehouse, giving fine arts advocates the chance to talk with legislators about the importance of arts instruction in our schools.

Among the advocates was opera great and Iowa native Simon Estes, who has performed at the world’s major opera houses for presidents, popes and other world leaders. He told the Senate Education Committee that the arts are a core educational experience for all students.

The Committee also heard from Sarah Dougherty, the 2013 Outstanding Elementary Art Educator. She is currently the coordinator of the Turnaround Arts Program at Findley Elementary in Des Moines. The Turnaround Arts Program is a new initiative to help narrow the achievement gap and improve student engagement through the arts.

Findley was chosen to be one of eight schools featured in the program through a highly competitive national selection process, and will receive intensive arts education resources, expertise and the involvement of high-profile artists. Thanks to the Turnaround Arts Program, Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker has been working with Findley for the past year.

Grant Ganzer of Johnston, a finalist on The Voice, told legislators that music in his school was important to his success in the TV music contest. Grant auditioned and was chosen by Blake Shelton to be a contestant on the show. For Grant, the experience has set the stage for what he hopes to accomplish here in Iowa: to inspire other young musicians to follow their dreams.

Research shows that:

• Arts-engaged students are much more likely to have excellent attendance records and to be recognized for academic achievement.

• At-risk students site arts engagement as a reason for staying in school.

• High-poverty arts-engaged eighth graders score higher on reading and science assessments.

• Students in the arts outperform their non-arts peers on the SAT by 91 points.

• Arts-engaged students are more likely to participate in civic engagement and community building.

Democratic Lawmakers Are Fighting For Iowa Schools

Iowa State Capitol

Iowa State Capitol

There is a fight heating up in the Iowa legislature over funding for education.  Listening to ALEC, the Republicans are suggesting a paltry 1.25% increase in funding for k-12.  Democrats are listening to teachers and educators, and they understand that 1.25% is no increase at all, and it would do nothing but continue the devastating course laid out for public education by the Branstad administration via ALEC.   [See Starving Public Schools and Exposing ALEC’s Agenda to Defund and Dismantle Public Education.]

I listened to some of the public testimony and it was heartbreaking to hear principals, superintendents, and other educators talk about the gross hardships to kids and teachers due to underfunding of Iowa’s schools.

The Senate Dems have released transcripts of compelling and powerful testimony from teachers and educators around Iowa.  Please read their stories then contact your state senator and representative.

A sampling from school visits, phone calls, emails and other reports received by Iowa Senate Democrats in the past few weeks:

From a high school science teacher in eastern Iowa:

I hold cupboard doors closed with rulers because they won’t stay closed any more. We have had the gas turned off in my +45 year old lab because of leak concerns, and they threaten to turn off my water in my lab because of leaks into the downstairs lab. My books for biology were copyrighted in 2000 and our classroom computers are going on 4 years old. My class sizes of 25 or more are not conducive to inquiry.

From teachers and administrators in Newton

The Middle School no longer has Industrial Arts: no student is taught metals, woods or plastics unless they meet the criteria to go to the Career Academy at DMACC. A 1.25% increase = $191,000 in “new money.” That leaves a shortfall of $382,000. This shortfall is proposed to be covered by a $0.375 increase in school property tax levy through the budget guarantee.

From an elementary school teacher in Waukee

The teacher-pupil ratio in my building’s kindergarten classes is 26 to 1 because we can’t afford to hire additional teachers. I know many of you in this room believe the teacher-pupil ratio is much less, but it is not. Our teacher pupil ratio is not ideal.

Twenty different languages are spoken in our building. Several students who attend our school are refugees. They are new comers who know little to no English. Teachers overcome these hurdles in addition to teaching their curriculum and make sure all their students receive the love, attention, and differentiated instruction they deserve. Quite simply, we need more teachers, but there is no money to hire additional staff.

From an elementary teacher in Cedar Rapids

I have been in the classroom for more than 14 years and due to budget cuts over the last few years, my class sizes have been between 25 to 28 students. During the 2011-12 school year, I had 35 fourth graders in my classroom. I’d like you all to imagine 35 fourth graders in a classroom. We are all packed like sardines in this hearing room tonight. Imagine that this is what it feels like in a classroom with 35 students only we are together, every single day, trying to learn

From a Northwest Iowa Superintendent

We need 6% for no cuts, 4% minimum…If the current House’s proposal passes we will be looking to cut an amount equal to 4.7 teachers in FY 17. This is not acceptable.

From Superintendent Mary Jo Hainstock, Vinton-Shellsburg

Our students deserve better and more than Governor Branstad has recommended. The spending per student is well below the national average and, if the recommendation is followed, we would be on a trajectory to be part of the lowest 20% in the nation. If we want our state to remain economically viable, we need to prepare our students for their futures. We need adequate resources to do this.

From Superintendent Dan Maeder, Davis County Community School District

Fund education like you want Iowa to lead the nation once again.

From a Central Iowa School Board member

As a school that is just getting our financial feet under us cash-wise, a 1.25% SSA increase would deal a hefty blow as it does not give us the spending authority we need to run our school. Without it, we are looking at possible staff reductions, maybe even program reductions, when we thought we cut as far as we could a couple of years ago. Our students deserve better.

One of Governor Branstad’s main goals (as listed on his website) is having the best schools in the nation. The duties and expectations put upon our staff continue to increase every year to reach this goal, however, Iowa continues to fall in educational funding per student (currently 35th)! I realize that just throwing money into something won’t make it better, but actions speak louder than words. If the state is not willing to invest in our schools (and continue to invest less than most other states), they will never end up anywhere near the top of the list.

From a North Iowa School Board member

The amount of SSA that is suggested in these initial proposals (from the House and Governor) will not cover the increased costs of doing business, and will most likely lead to teaching positions being reduced, and programs for our students being reduced, as well as a possible increase in property taxes.

The governor and the legislature have been preaching “World Class Schools” for the last several years. How are we to develop “World Class Schools” in Iowa when we continue to underfund K-12 education. The state is asking us to provide “Cadillac” education while funding us at “Yugo” prices.

From a Central Iowa School Superintendent

The State of Iowa must end the current trend of underfunding our schools. Over the last 14 years school funding has been reduced by 17% due to across the board cuts, eliminated funding for technology, and reduced dropout prevention funds. Currently the State of Iowa’s per pupil spending ranks 35th in the nation spending $1612 less per pupil than the rest of the nation. This is not acceptable, how will Iowa’s Schools be able to provide a world class education with third world funding?

From an Eastern Iowa teacher

Right now I am asking you to help with an urgent matter that impacts us all: funding for public education. House File 80 sets Supplemental School Aid at 1.25%. That is an inadequate amount and would result in overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks, fired teachers, etc. Most school districts need at least 4% to avoid budget reductions, maintain an adequate unspent balance, and offer innovative education opportunities. In fact, districts need 6% to allow schools to do innovative work at a more rapid pace. So please invest in our schools and children.

As an Iowan, I want us to have some of the best schools in the nation.

As a parent, I want my children to gain an excellent education that prepares them to be productive citizens.

As a teacher, I want my students to have innovative, research-based resources that will empower them to be competitive in college and the job market.

– See more at:

Here is the Democratic plan to fund Iowa’s schools:

(Des Moines) Democratic members of the Iowa Senate today announced a plan to increase state aid to schools to ensure that every Iowa child gets the best education possible and that they are prepared to compete for the jobs of the future.

The Senate Democratic plan calls for a 4 percent increase in basic state aid for Iowa schools for the school year beginning on July 1, 2015, and for the school year beginning July 1, 2016.

“Iowa’s future depends on high-quality local schools,” said Senate President Pam Jochum of Dubuque. “That’s why we support a plan that is a serious, meaningful step forward for Iowa schools.”

“Our plan would reverse Iowa’s slide downwards when you compare us to other states in terms of per student investment,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs. “We are now 35th and falling. Other states are investing more and achieving better results than Iowa. We must do better.”

Gronstal added: “As Senate Democrats travel the state listening to parents, students, educators and other concerned Iowans, they all tell us that the funding approved by the Republican-controlled House is not enough to keep up with the costs of providing a high-quality experience in our local classrooms. In fact, school superintendents across the state say their schools are facing larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, outdated materials, and staff layoffs.”

Jochum said the House-passed version would also raise property taxes on many Iowans, while shortchanging our best and brightest students.

“The House’s party-line vote for 1.25 percent was really a vote to continue Iowa’s slide even further downwards in terms of per student investment and student achievement,” Jochum said.

– See more at:

Wage Theft And Money For Schools: The Courtney Report

Courtney Report

Once again we will take excerpts from Senator Courtney’s newsletter.

Iowa’s future depends on high-quality local schools. That’s why I’m working hard to ensure that every Iowa child gets the best education possible and that they are prepared to compete for the jobs of the future.

The Republican-led Iowa House passed a bill along party lines this week that would provide a 1.25 percent increase in state funding for our schools.

I have heard from parents and students. I have talked with my local school teachers and administrators. They all tell me that the bill that the House passed is not enough money to keep up with the costs of providing a high-quality experience in our local classrooms. In fact, school superintendents across the state say that their schools are facing larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, outdated materials and staff layoffs.

Although Iowa schools are doing a good job of improving student achievement, we are in danger of being passed up by other states if we don’t provide the resources they need to prepare for the 21st century workforce.

Iowa currently ranks 35th in the nation when it comes to how much we invest in each student. On average, we invest $1,612 less per student than the national average. I want to do better by our local schools and for all of Iowa’s students.

What does your school need to be successful? I have visited local schools and listened to students, teachers and parents. If you would like me to visit your school, please call or e-mail me. I invite all constituents to share their thoughts on funding for our local schools.

All Iowans deserve to get paid for the work they do. Strengthening Iowa’s middle class depends on it. Sadly, $600 million in wages are stolen from Iowa workers each year.

Iowa’s wage theft laws are so weak that they are impossible to enforce. The result? Iowa workers get ripped off by unscrupulous employers, and the majority of businesses that play by the rules are put at a disadvantage.

Most Iowans aren’t at risk of being cheated by their employer, but low-wage workers often are, and they’re the ones with the most to lose. This week at the Statehouse, Katie Wilson and Justin Banks, servers at the Coralville Applebee’s, talked of their fight to get their share of tips illegally taken from them by management.

Valentine Ruiz of Conesville described his ongoing fight to get paid for $1,200 of welding work he did in 2012 for a company in West Liberty. Because three other people had similar complaints, Iowa Workforce Development sought and won a judgment for back pay and interest. However, no penalty was imposed, and Mr. Ruiz has yet to receive any of the money owed him.

Just hiring more investigators won’t fix this problem. We need laws that make it clear you must pay your workers, and make it easier and safer for workers to stand up for their rights. Proposed legislation would make Iowa’s law more straightforward with these three changes:

1. Employers would be required to keep a written record of the terms of employment.

2. The defense that an employer “unintentionally” failed to pay employees would no longer be acceptable.

3. Employees filing wage theft claims and those who offer testimony on their behalf would be protected from retaliation under threat of penalty.

The Iowa Senate approved reforms to our state’s wage theft law in 2011 and 2014, but the bills were not brought up for debate in the Iowa House.

For more information on the problem of wage theft in Iowa, read the Iowa Policy Project’s report at

Promoting the long-term health and wellbeing of Iowa’s children is essential to our state’s future. Kids lead more productive, happy lives if they receive mental health and developmental services when they need them , according to the United Way.

Children’s brains develop over time. The growth and maturation of the brain is guided by genes and impacted by life experiences. When kids experience trauma, that stress disrupts the developing brain, producing negative lifelong consequences for learning, behavior and health.

Legislators heard this week about the problem of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” and progress over the last year to expand early childhood wellness initiatives to more counties in Iowa. The state is now collecting data on Adverse Childhood Experiences, including child abuse, neglect and household dysfunction.

Research shows that kids who experience four or more traumatic experiences in childhood have a:

• 1,525 percent greater chance of attempted suicide.

• 555 percent greater chance of alcoholism.

• 443 percent greater chance of illicit drug use.

• 357 percent greater chance of depression.

• 242 percent greater chance of smoking.

• 222 percent greater chance of obesity.

No kids should have to grow up with those kinds of odds working against them. Building resilience is the key to moderating extreme stress and promoting lifelong health. Of greatest importance are prevention and early detection, as well as family-focused approaches to supporting children and their parents.

Effective evidence-based prevention and treatment programs include Iowa’s 1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative, which brings together physicians and social service providers to promote healthy mental development among young kids. If a child is determined to be at risk, appropriate referrals can be made to help the family in optimizing the child’s mental development.

With continued support of the 1st Five Initiative, we can ensure that Iowa’s children begin life with the greatest opportunity to achieve school readiness, academic success and overall wellbeing throughout life.

People of Iowa: Keep Iowa Mental Health Institutes Open

MHIThere is a petition on to prevent the Branstad administration and the legislature from closing the doors of two of Iowa’s mental health institutions. It needs 725 signatures to reach 5,000.

People of Iowa: Keep Iowa MHIs Open

Gov. Branstad has made a proposal to shut down the Mental Health Institutes of Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda, Iowa. This petition is to support keeping them open, and keeping them funded.

Not only are there not enough beds to support everyone who would be affected by this, those that are working at these MHIs will be out of a job, or will be uprooted to move to the next closest MHI, which is in Independence, Iowa. This facility is 3+ hours away.

This proposal will ultimately not save money as the Governor states. It will cause extra money to be spent on other psychiatric units of hospitals and nurses of these hospitals, ultimately causing them to be spending more to support the influx of people.

Please sign this petition to help my Psych/Mental Health class of Iowa Wesleyan College lobby in Des Moines to support this cause. We are also affected seeing as our school, Indian Hills Community College, and Southeastern Community College all use this facility to train in the psychiatric clinical setting. Please help us keep them open!

Click here to sign the petition