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Iowa Legislature

Bridges In Iowa Worst In Nation

It does happen

It does happen

Iowa finally got to the top in one category of public achievement. From an email issued by Progress Iowa:

We’ve got some bad news. Iowa recently overtook Pennsylvania for the dubious honor of having more structurally deficient bridges than any other state, according to an annual report published by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

With a ranking like that you’d expect your state legislators to take action. Well, they did, but the wrong kind of action — gutting the Iowa Department of Transportation’s budget by $4.85 million. To cut funding when our bridges are falling apart isn’t just irresponsible, it’s ridiculous.

Join Progress Iowa in calling on state legislators to restore funding and repair Iowa’s crumbling infrastructure.

We drive our families over structurally deficient bridges every day, often without even knowing it. Without adequate funding for more inspectors and more improvements, our state’s infrastructure will fall further behind, impacting our safety and our economy.

Thanks for all you do,

Matt Sinovic
Executive Director
Progress Iowa

It is not just sad, it is scary. All of us drive over these bridges daily. We drive over one that could looks like it is literally held together with chewing gum and bailing wire.

The infrastructure in this state is getting to the stage of decrepit in some cases. When not maintained, bridges do fall down and people die when they do. Nine years ago come August 1st the I35 bridge in St. Paul collapsed killing 13 and injuring 145. When taxes are cut there are consequences. When we have a congress that couldn’t pass a Mother’s Day bill, there are consequences.

Don’t forget when you vote this fall that your votes do have consequences. Iowa was once one of the most progressive of states. Our parents and grandparents built a state grounded in common sense with an infrastructure that supported decent living. We need to remember that that infrastructure must be maintained and improved if we expect to maintain our life style and move our economy into the future.

The Republican Party is the party of tax cuts, damn the consequences.

Kitchen Table Issues And The Iowa Legislature

Iowa Capitol

Iowa Capitol

A quite disappointing session by most any standards. The legislature did little to give Iowa’s middle class and poor hope that there would be any help coming their way. Republicans in the legislature were able to keep some of the tax cuts that Governor Branstad bestowed on businesses while the legislature was out last fall.

So when Iowans sit at their kitchen tables to talk of finances, their hopes for them and their children, their health situations and the world situation – the kind of things families talk about – they must look at their leaders in Des Moines and just shake their heads wondering what the hell are they doing.

The cost of higher education will probably go up in Iowa thanks to the legislature while classrooms for the K-12 will possibly get a bit more overcrowded as Iowa continues its streak of underfunding education. Hopes of rising wages among the poorest in Iowa were once again dashed as there would be no talk of raising a minimum wage that is set at the lowest possible wage in the country.

On the good side, at least the legislature did not fall for the Governor’s little scheme to slowly starve public schools by cutting into the sales tax stream earmarked for schools. However, the other side of that coin is that the water pollution problems that Branstad’s little scheme was supposed to address remains untouched.

Once again Iowa’s Fiscal Partnership has a great summary of the recent legislative session here.

Not mentioned in there is Republicans in the legislature’s totally gutless approach to legalizing medical marijuana. Seems like it should be a simple project for the legislature to clean up the mess they made a couple years ago when they rushed a medical marijuana bill through at the end of the session. With the glare of media focused on the truly sad stories epileptic children, the legislature passed a bill that allowed the use of medical marijuana but not its purchase or possession.

When the problem was discovered rather than fix their mistake, Republicans decided this was a great place to make a really strange anti-drug stand. So for two consecutive sessions they have worked to once more make Iowa the butt of jokes. While they dither children with epilepsy will be seeing their access to cannbidiol oil expiring at the end of June.

The Iowa legislature is in desperate need of a major makeover this fall. We need adults who will address the needs of real Iowans, not a legislature beholden to ALEC.

Just A Reminder: ALEC And Why State Races Are Important

before voting, ask yourself this question

before voting, ask yourself this question

Now that the legislature has concluded and the focus will be on the November elections, it is extremely important that we make sure that we not get totally distracted by the sideshow known as Trump. The Iowa legislature is but one seat from being a tie. With the Lt. Governor being a republican and with her having the tie breaking vote in the senate, keeping a majority in the senate is imperative.

What would happen if republicans maintain control of the House and gain at least a tie in the senate? With the leadership in the Iowa House also being in leadership in ALEC and the governor as a founding member of ALEC, we would quickly see Iowa adopting ALEC legislation into state laws.

If you want examples of what that would mean to Iowa, all we need to do is look around to other states where Republicans own both houses of the legislature and the governor’s chair. Perhaps the most recent example is North Carolina where an ALEC model bill stopping local government (cities or counties) from raising minimum wage added a clause to check the sex of people going into a public bathroom. While that clause gets most of the publicity and reaction, the bill is one of ALEC’s new thrust to stop local governments to respond to the needs of their citizens.

In the past ALEC has pushed such hit legislation as “Stand Your Ground,” many of the charter school laws around the country, and of course the push for all sorts of anti-union laws especially the anti-public union policies. There are a lot of Iowa legislators who would love to sell their state out for a little favor from ALEC businesses.

ALEC gears up for the next winter’s legislative session well in advance. They will have a summer meeting from July 27 – 29th in Indianapolis.
They will be catching legislators coming back from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland the week before. The summer meeting is usually a strategy session. Legislators usually get their walking orders at the winter meeting just before Christmas and the coming legislative session usually held in a warm vacation spot.

So what does ALEC have in store for next year? Our friends at the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) gave us a lowdown on what was expected to go on at the ALEC Task Force Meeting in Pittsburgh yesterday. Here is an short extract of some of the business want list from their min ions in the various legislatures:

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT:
Attacking Federal Efforts to Rein-in Carbon Pollution

Over the last three years, ALEC has penned and promoted several bills to stop the Clean Power Plan (CPP), which establishes state-by-state targets for carbon emissions reductions, and offers a flexible framework that allows states to meet those targets. The Clean Power Plan is also a major part of the U.S. commitment to reduce carbon pollution under the recent Paris international climate conference to try to mitigate the consequences of climate change – much more on the environment at the link.

* The Environmental Literacy Improvement Act would require that educators teach students about issues such as climate change from “a range of perspectives.” Although climate change is not a scientifically disputed fact (with 97% consensus), the bill would require that students be taught “countervailing scientific and economic views.”

* The Updating Net Metering Policies Resolution would increase costs for energy users who generate their own electricity through solar panels at their home or business. An ALEC staffer described home solar users to the media as “free riders on the system.”

EDUCATION: More Privatization

ALEC’s education agenda is focused on privatizing America’s public schools. Its bills undermine public education and teachers’ unions and also divert taxpayer dollars from accountable public schools to unaccountable for-profit education corporations. ALEC masks its true agenda in “feel-good” language, such as shifting from terms like “vouchers,” which are broadly unpopular and rooted in segregation, to “opportunity scholarships” or “tuition tax credits.” ALEC bills expected to crop up in 2016 include:

* “Indiana Education Reform Package” creates a voucher program, using taxpayer funds to subsidize private for-profit and religious schools and limits teachers’ rights to collective bargaining. One of its key components–the “Charter School Act”–automatically converts low-scoring public schools into charter schools.

* “Parent Trigger Act” would allow parents to seize control of a school and fire the teachers and principal, or privatize it entirely, for years to come.

These are just a small sample of what a Republican legislature with an allegiance to ALEC would do if elected in Iowa.

Now more than ever is it critical that Iowans vote and vote for legislators that have allegiance to our state and not a business backed lobbying group.

Bill Stowe, An Iowa Hero

“We are in a water crisis in this state… We have sold our souls to the devil..”

 

Republicans Vote To Defund Planned Parenthood

planned parentood attack

They Take a Stand Opposed By 75% of Iowa

Iowa House Republicans again this year inserted an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood from any state funding.

This is a truly unpopular issue with Iowans. As Beth Wessel-Kroeschell is quoted in the Mason City Globe-Gazette:

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, cited a public opinion poll published by the Des Moines Register that showed 3 out of 4 Iowans support state funding for health care providers like Planned Parenthood.

“We have a mandate. This is simple,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “Not only do Iowans overwhelmingly support Planned Parenthood funding, family planning dollars, but it’s a program that works. It’s a program that gives people power and choice over their health care.”

It is very hard to grasp why Republicans are pushing so hard for this unpopular amendment, so let’s see if we can understand their impetus for bringing this up and voting for it.

The first reason to vote for such an unpopular measure is that it plays well back home. Even though a measure is unpopular statewide doesn’t mean it is unpopular in individual districts. Measures like this are geared to the religious voter. Supporting anti-abortion measures in any form is a sure way to keep the religious coming out to vote.

A second reason to vote for such an unpopular measure is that it punishes those who violate an unwritten moral code that frowns on sexual acts especially by women. While that may seem odd, men are not punished for sexual acts resulting in a pregnancy, only the women. If a woman becomes pregnant she should therefore accept the result of that sin, the sex act, by carrying the child to term and raising said child to adulthood. To follow this punishment even further, Republicans at all levels make it hard to get state aid to feed, clothe and educate this child.

A third reason to vote for such an unpopular measure is that it most frequently punishes the poor. Planned Parenthood is not used exclusively by poor women, but often for the poor it is often their only choice. We know how Republicans feel about poor people. It is their fault and they should suffer the consequences. If not having access to health care is part of that so be it.

One of the most overarching reasons for voting for any anti-abortion measure at a state level is to be part of the “movement conservative” across the US. The movement realized it could change more policy in the country working at a state level than trying to push a big rock uphill in Washington. Thus every little legislator in the smallest state is but a cog in the bigger movement. Note that in being part of the larger movement the individual legislator often does not represent his or her district.

Finally there is the desire to legislate one’s own moral and religious code into secular law. Such religious code in this country is usually found in some interpretation of one of the many variations of the bible. Stated in another way, Christians have been known to enact their religious code into law to punish those that are seen as morally weak in their eyes. As proof let us just consider all the so-called “religious freedom” bills that are rushing through various state legislatures.

Iowa is but one vote in the senate from being yet another state with a movement conservative legislature and governor all set to enact religious beliefs into law. Elections are extremely important.

This is just one of a number very unpopular measures that Republicans have been responsible for in the past couple of years. Many were solo jobs by the governor. But the governor is the head of the party in this state and not someone apart from the party. Who can forget closing the mental health facilities at Mount Pleasant and Clarinda? How about the line item veto of school funding last July? May pumping multi millions into fertilizer plants with few jibs to show for it got your blood boiling? Of course the big one was the governor’s unilateral privatizing of Iowa’s Medicaid system so the administrative companies could take a big cut of our tax dollars.

Really makes you wonder why anyone would vote for such scoundrels. But they do.

Privatization Has Consequences

 

It’s April 16th. Has A Medical Marijuana Bill Passed Yet?

medical marijuana

Two weeks ago I was treated to a short presentation by Shelly Van Winkle at the legislative forum in Muscatine. Ms. Van Winkle (is there any title that indicates that a person is an RN?) is a registered nurse and a certified cannabis nurse. She was there once more to demonstrate the need for medical marijuana in Iowa. This time she was with a group of parents with young children who suffer from epilepsy.

She spoke of the suffering the children go through and the feelings of helplessness that the parents suffer when they see their children suffer from something that could be easily and greatly lessened with an application of a natural medication that is legally available in some 20 states including Illinois and Minnesota. Later one of the parents spoke of the hell she and her daughter went through before she was allowed to get medical marijuana through a very special dispensation. She then told of her wrenching fear of what would come when that dispensation expires in July.

The child is 5. You just have to ask what this child has done that Republican legislators would allow her to suffer so much. She is 5. She is taking the medication now. Children across the country are benefitting from such medication without any bad effects. Our governor has said he is open to full legalization of medical marijuana

The two Republicans at the forum claimed they were simply waiting for their leadership to decide what they wanted to do. Republican leadership has so far refused to move on medical marijuana. Claiming things like there is no scientific proof that marijuana works to fear that Iowa doctors will be arrested for even discussing using marijuana, Republicans continue to choke any move.

When last I heard such legislation was tied up in the House Ways and Means committee head by Tom Sands. According to the Des Moines Register, here was the status a couple of weeks ago:

But the legislation has been delayed in the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, headed by Rep. Tom Sands, R-Wapello. He has yet to assign the bill to a subcommittee.

“I’m still trying to gather facts on science and if it’s driving this (conversation) or whether it’s emotion,” Sands said. “… And while I have a lot of sympathy for the parents that have some of these children that are looking for hope, we don’t want to do the wrong thing that actually gives them worse side effects in years to come or sends the wrong message to the rest of our kids on drug use.”

Parents of children with severe epilepsy and other ailments have made emotional pleas at the Iowa Capitol this session and last; some say their children have seen major improvements in their health since using the oil. But Sands and others within the House Republican caucus have said they’re concerned the measure opens the door to possible misuse.

Sorry, I ain’t buying it. The points Sands make plus other points that Republicans have been trotting out are so easily disputed we could send one of the affected kids to take them on in a debate. If you are worried about sending the wrong message about drugs to kids, how about looking into all the mood affecting drugs that seem to be handed out like candies by doctors these days. From the Ritalins to the Prozacs kids have long ago gotten the message that drugs are a basic part of living these days.

The message that Republicans are sending is that even though this drug has long since been proven safe and effective, it will be blocked anyway. The excuses the public are given have long been refuted. So why won’t Republicans come clean with the truth? Could it be that the truth behind keeping cannabidiol oil from Iowans would bring the wrath of the public down on Iowa Republicans.

Could it be that the demon, money in politics, is behind the decision to let to let Iowa’s kids, veterans and many others suffer while relief is actually available? While trails like this are often hard to track, it sure looks like it could be.

When the reasons that we are given don’t hold water, it sure seems like someone is doing the bidding of an unseen driver. As I stated a couple weeks ago, that unseen driver very likely could be ALEC. Among members of ALEC are the drug companies who have a lot to lose if medical marijuana is legalized; the alcohol industry which may not be stung by medical marijuana, but could be stung badly by legalized recreational marijuana and of course the privatized prison industry which has lots of empty cells that our insane drug war helps keep filled.

It may seem like I am beating a drum for medical marijuana. I am.

With only a few days left and lawmakers eager to get out on the campaign trail, the legislative session could easily adjourn with this issue dying what would be a quiet death for most, but what would be a tragic case of purposeful neglect by a group of gutless politicians.

The right thing to do is to pass medical marijuana so that Iowans who need the relief it can give can have access to it. For a party that preaches personal responsibility and freedom once again give the finger and turn their backs on the very human beings they claim to represent.

Iowa Budget Time: Hey Where Did The Money Go?

Iowa Capitol

Iowa Capitol

Here we go again. The end of the legislative session and the legislature claims once more there is no money.

Where the hell did the money go? Tax breaks for businesses for the most part.

Had Branstad’s administration not given tax cuts to businesses without consulting the legislature we would probably OK. As it is, we are at the very beginning of a huge downhill slide in revenue. These revenue cuts will be showing up in budget cuts that will especially be seen in the education budget. So while the special interests that the Republicans have given breaks to are no longer paying what they once did, Iowa’s parents will see higher tuition fees on their kids university bills. Parents of younger children will see cutbacks in staff at their local schools and more crowded class rooms.

This is just the beginning.

Iowa CCI warned of this a few months back:

On January 27, Governor Branstad told the Iowa press corps that there is no room in his five-year budget for setting allowable school growth at six percent, as Senate Democrats propose, but the governor failed to give the reason why: because his “signature bipartisan achievement”, corporate property tax cuts, is so expensive that the cost will burn through Iowa’s budget surplus in just a few years without leaving any money left over for investing in the vital public services that everyday people and hardworking families depend on like education, environmental protections, infrastructure, and workforce development.

This looming budget reality is now one of the biggest political issue in the state, and the public debate surrounding it will continue through the remainder of the 2014 legislative session as well as through the November elections. But the issue also poses problems for Democrats, who are now in the position of advocating for policies like allowable school growth that their own votes on the corporate property tax cut bill have made it more difficult to afford.

Branstad’s corporate property tax cuts passed last year will cost the state $277 million next year and ultimately peak out at $380 million per year. Even with the backfill, county governments will face a $740 million shortfall over ten years, and the stories of how local government responds in the coming weeks of months will continue to fuel statewide discussions.

In the short-term, Iowa’s surplus will be able to absorb the cost of the corporate property tax replacements, but the state is now on a collision course with a budget reality few from either party want to admit: the corporate property tax cuts are simply unaffordable without sacrificing investments in bread and butter programs like preschool, K-12 education, community colleges, factory farm enforcement, water quality monitoring and cleanup, and job training.

“Governor Branstad says we can’t afford to invest in our schools anymore, but he won’t say why: because the corporate property tax cuts he championed are stealing the wealth of the state and robbing our children and our teachers,” said Ross Grooters, a train engineer and CCI Action Fund member from Pleasant Hill with a second-grader at Delaware Elementary School.

Iowa CCI proposed some remedies at the link. However, the session is nearly over and the time for remedies is nearly past.

As noted before, this is just the beginning. Unless the legislature takes back control of the budget and taxing from the Governor who wants to be king, Iowa will see continued decreasing education funding. This is by design based on what Republicans have done in other states.

It is part of their “starve the beast” strategy. This is where public institutions such as schools continually get their budgets either cut or frozen and naturally the services get worse. As schools get worse, Iowa’s parents will be looking for a fix to the problem. Republicans will claim that privatizing schools will be the solution. After seeing their schools deteriorate from underfunding, will Iowans buy into this bogus answer.

Time will tell. But first before they can sell the solution to a problem that doesn’t quite yet exist in Iowa, Republicans will have to create the problem. By starving the beast.

As Bob Dvorsky said last week, the real solution is November. Lets restore a legislature that puts Iowans first.

TAKE ACTION: Payday Lenders At It Again‏

cciaction_logo_color

TAKE ACTION: Payday lenders at it again

Payday lenders are trying to sneak a bill through at the last minute of the legislative session. It sounds like an affordable lending option, but upon closer inspection is anything but.

Take action now and email your Representative to tell them to vote no on this bill!

House Study Bill (HSB) 649 would open up Iowa to Flexible Credit Loans, also known as “Flex Loans”. Flex Loans are unsecured lines of credit that are capped at 17% interest, a month. Unlike traditional payday loans that cannot exceed $500, Flex Loans would range from $500 – $2,000 with loan terms ranging from 0 – 24 months.

This isn’t just a payday loan by another name, it’s payday lending on steroids. The way the loan is structured makes it ripe for abuse with daily or monthly fees, shady refinancing schemes, and so much more to trap families in a debt cycle for years.

Please take a minute to contact your Representative and tell them to vote no on this bill that would usher in a whole new phase of predatory lending in our state.

Thank you for all you do and for taking action on this issue.

For an Iowa that puts people before corporate greed,

Matthew Covington
Community Organizer

Legislative Forums: Republicans Misdirect, Obfuscate

Senator Dvorsky

Senator Dvorsky

Not many folks take advantage of the legislative forums that are held throughout the state during the legislative session. Usually these are held on Saturdays in cities and towns around the state. Members of the legislature for the area come in to answer questions from the public.

We hadn’t been this year, so we made our way down Muscatine last Saturday morning. Muscatine County includes Senators Tom Courtney, Chris Brace and Bob Dvorsky as their senators. The representatives for Muscatine County include Gary Carlson, Tom Sands and Bobby Kaufmann. Kaufmann was absent last Saturday.

On the surface the forum seemed peaceful, we could feel an undercurrent of tension. This is not a report so much as an attempt to recreate the atmosphere in the room.

The questions for this particular day centered around legalizing medical marijuana and the conversion of Iowa’s medicaid to private administrators for medicaid. Despite Governor Branstad’s claim that the transition went well, it was very obvious from the comments of all the legislators that there were huge glitches.

Bob Dvorsky was the last to answer one of the questions about the medicaid transition. As he answered the emotions of having been railroaded by the governor seemed to well up and spill out in his answer. He was quite frustrated at the way the administration had handled this whole transition from beginning to end.

From the Muscatine Journal report:

Dvorsky said that there is a significant lack of information and accurate information that is affecting what can be done about the bill, and that the Governor’s office said the private corporations could police themselves, although he still feels the need for more oversight through the government, rather than through private parties.

“In my 30 years in the legislature this is the worst debacle I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know how we get out of it but I think the answer may be in November,” he said.


Dvorsky also noted (but not reported in the article) that to cover those on medicaid the system should have around 1500 advocates for the 530,000 Iowans in the system. There are currently two advocates.

Another topic Saturday was the strange situation of medical marijuana in this state. Two years ago the legislature was heralded for the swiftness with which access to medical marijuana was passed and signed into law. What was missing from that legislation was the legalization of obtaining or possessing marijuana. Thus any good medical marijuana could do is totally negated by the inability to buy or possess marijuana. Two years later Republicans refuse to move on fixing those problems.

The bill is currently stalled in the House Ways and Means committee. Tom Sands is the chair of that committee. He claims that he is looking to Republican leadership in the House on whether or not to move the bill along. Once again from the Muscatine Journal:

Rep. Sands said that there are still questions relating to the bill, and he is waiting for direction before moving the bill to a subcommittee.

“I think there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said, and added, “the bill sits in my committee and it’s sitting there until I get some direction from the house Republican leadership on how they want it and when it’ll be debated.”

What Sands didn’t say was a couple of things. For one thing, as chair of Ways and Means he has quite a bit of influence on what the leadership would do. The other thing is that House leadership means Linda Upmeyer. Now, I do not know the inner workings of the Republican party in the House, but it must be noted that Ms. Upmeyer is the past president of ALEC. Mr. Sands is also reported to be a member of ALEC. ALEC as most know is a lobbying group of businesses which is most noted for writing business friendly “model” legislation. Among the members of ALEC are liquor companies and pharmaceutical companies which have a stake in keeping marijuana as illegal as possible.

In that same vein, a group of mothers of epileptic children who have been able to obtain medical marijuana oil to control their children’s seizures were in attendance to plead their case that the special dispensation be continue beyond its current July 1st end. One mother told how her daughter has gone from 200 seizures a day to less than 16 this year.

One would think that this would be a no brainer for the legislature to move on quickly and probably near unanimously. Oddly, in their answers the Democrats were quite aware of this situation and were working on it. The Republicans both claimed they were unaware of the situation.

Mixed in to all of the topics was the ever underlying budget questions. As usually happens the Republicans claimed that the state had no money. What balderdash! What chutzpah! In the interim between last session and this session the Governor made a couple of administrative tax cuts that cost the state hundreds of millions in revenue, perhaps a billion. This in a state that has a budget of approximately $7 billion. The Republican led House refused to even discuss these cuts. Now they plead poverty! Takes a lot of guts to do that. Add to those cuts didadtrous economic initiative like Oroscom which has cost at least $100 million taxpayer dollars going to build a private business.

In short, another session that showed how Republicans could care less about Iowans, their health needs or real priorities. No wonder citizens stay away in droves. In the words of Senator Dvorsky, “the answer is November.”

Senator Chris Brase

Senator Chris Brase