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Iowa Legislature

Republicans Fail Iowans In 2015 Session

Senator Joe Bolkcom

Senator Joe Bolkcom

(Editor’s Note: Joe Bolkcom represents Iowa Senate District 43 in the Legislature. The following editorial appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen, and is reprinted with permission of the author).

When considering the accomplishments of the 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature, it makes sense to be clear about where we started.

In Iowa, Republicans control the governor’s office and the Iowa House. Democrats control the Iowa Senate. That means bipartisan support is required for any idea to pass the legislature.

  • Republican opposition, for example, prevented the following common sense ideas from reaching the governor’s desk:
    ­ An increase in the minimum wage.
    ­
  • A crack down on dishonest employers who refuse to pay employees what they are owed.
    ­
  • An anti-bullying law to give all students a safe and supportive place to learn.
    ­
  • The elimination of the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse so no Iowa abuser can ever be sure they got away with it.
    ­
  • Tougher laws against domestic violence and human trafficking.

I again led efforts to bring Iowans responsible, regulated access to medicines made from cannabis. The legislation we wrote is based on the most successful approaches adopted by other states, including Minnesota and Illinois. It was approved with bipartisan support in the Senate, but was blocked from a vote in the House by Republican leaders.

It takes time for even good ideas to become law. The minimum wage hike, the wage theft crackdown, the anti-bullying effort, the tougher laws on domestic abuse and human trafficking, and medical cannabis will all be ready for the House to consider next January.

While I was disappointed those ideas did not become law, I’ve very happy to report that steep, permanent cuts in state support for the University of Iowa were decisively rejected.

I want to thank the many Johnson County residents who spoke up against a misguided proposal from the Iowa Board of Regents.

I’m proud that Democratic state senators and my Johnson County House colleagues, led by Senate Budget Chairman Bob Dvorsky of Coralville, made it clear that so-called “performance based funding” goes nowhere as long as Democrats hold the majority of the Iowa Senate.

Local school funding was the most contentious issue of this session. We need to face the fact that Iowa no longer leads the nation in student achievement.

Other states are investing more and seeing better results. When it comes to per student funding in our K-12 schools, Iowa—the education state—has slipped into the bottom third of the 50 states.

Education is the next generation’s ticket to a better life and is key to building a high-wage, high-skill Iowa economy. That’s why I worked hard this session to get our state’s support for education back on track. Unfortunately, despite hard work from Iowa educators, students and parents, the best that can be said is that a status quo education budget was approved.

It might be enough to prevent Iowa from falling further behind, but it won’t help our young people catch up to students in other states.

The Republican argument that Iowa can’t afford first class schools is ridiculous. Our state’s economy is growing and we have almost $1 billion in savings. And the same House Republicans who voted against education turned around and introduced legislation calling for massive tax giveaways to wealthy Iowans and out-of-state corporations.

What Iowans need to know about this session is that support for public education is now a partisan issue at the Iowa Statehouse. That’s unfortunate, but it is true.

Legislative Democrats support strong local schools and affordable access to community colleges, public universities and private colleges.
Legislative Republicans don’t.

In fact, the Republican majority of the Iowa House was so opposed to responsibly funding Iowa’s local schools that they ignored legal deadlines and caused fiscal uncertainty in hundreds of school districts.

More than 1,100 Iowa teachers were pink-slipped this spring because of Republican intransigence in the Capitol. Republican members of the legislature stubbornly refused to bargain, even to the point of threatening to shut down state government.

Most Iowans, be they Democrats or Republicans, do not share this strange hostility toward public education. That’s why Iowa candidates for office always promise to support local schools.

The 2015 session is when the gap between campaign promises and votes cast in the legislature became a Grand Canyon.

In the coming months, I’ll be working to tell as many Iowans as possible the story of the failure of legislative Republicans to support our local students.

My goal is to help the majority of Iowans who support our schools gain the attention of the Republican members of the Legislature.

If they do, the next session of the Iowa Legislature will be the one that reverses Iowa’s slide with regard to educational leadership.

Contact Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, at joe@joebolkcom.org.

(Editor’s Note: Yesterday, Governor Branstad used his authority to line item veto the bipartisan, bicameral agreement on school funding. Bolkcom, who uses Twitter sparingly, posted twice in reaction to the governor’s veto).

 


 

How The Gun Lobby’s Top Legislative Priority In Iowa Was Defeated

iowa capitoldesmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/2015/06/29/common-sense-guns/

by John Feinblatt

Every four years, the national media looks to Iowa for stories about where American voters stand on pressing issues.

After what happened this spring here in Des Moines, it’s clear where Iowans stand on guns and public safety — and how Iowans made their voices heard is a story that deserves to be told.

It starts in the Statehouse, where the NRA’s lobbyists pushed Senate File 425. The bill set out to overturn a longstanding background check requirement on private handgun sales. In effect, the gun lobby wanted to get rid of a provision that helps ensure guns sold at places like gun shows and via the Internet are subject to the same rules as guns sold at federally licensed dealers.

In quickly advancing the bill to the floor, gun lobby-aligned lawmakers conveniently avoided talking about what the bill would actually do. They went so far as to say that that the bill was focused on “safety improvements.” They also touted the bill’s other provisions, including those that would streamline the law to ease some restrictions on law-abiding gun owners. The lobbyists never mentioned repealing background checks. That makes sense, since 88 percent of Iowans support the background check policy.

In the run-up to the final vote on the Senate floor, I reached out to Republican strategists in Iowa to see whether the NRA could be stopped.

“Not a chance,” longtime political observers told me. “They’re too powerful and once they’ve gotten something on the floor, there’s no way to beat them.”

We’ve heard that line for years. Too often, we’ve taken it for granted. The truth is, there’s only one way to find out if the conventional wisdom is actually accurate: show up and fight back.

And that’s what we did.

The Iowa chapter of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, went to work. Iowa moms made nearly 5,000 phone calls to state senators, explaining what the bill really would do. They held an advocacy day and delivered petitions filled with signatures. They ran informational advertisements in newspapers across the state.

Most important, they talked face to face with their friends and neighbors.

In the end, the so-called experts were wrong. The Legislature never passed the bill, and the “unbeatable” gun lobby saw its top legislative priority in Iowa defeated.

The lesson we should take from Iowa is simple, and bears repeating.

When people know what’s in a bill —when legislators understand the consequences of what they’re voting on — they’ll do the right thing.

Using misleading language to mask a bill’s true purpose may have worked in the past, but it didn’t this time. Once we got away from the horse-trading lobbyists at the Capitol and into cities and towns throughout the state, we saw that the public wanted to keep the background check system in place. Iowans know that keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous felons is just common sense. Like the vast majority of Americans, they believe that Second Amendment rights go hand in hand with basic safety measures.

The defeat of SF 425 is more than just a political victory, though. Iowans will be safer as a result of its defeat. We know this because in nearby Missouri, legislators overturned a background check requirement in 2007 and the results were deadly. Research by the scholar Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, found that after Missouri did the gun lobby’s bidding and gutted its background check system, the state’s gun homicide rate increased by nearly 25 percent. We know, too, that the gun suicide rate in Iowa is 27 percent lower than in states that lack comprehensive background check measures.

Ultimately, the win in Iowa serves as yet another reminder that when you try new approaches and get voters engaged on an issue, powerful interests can be defeated.

When the people go head to head against the gun lobby, the people —and public safety —can prevail.

John Feinblatt is the president of Everytown for Gun Safety. Contact: info@everytown.org

Iowa Will Have Expanded Broadband Internet Access

iowa capitol Something good came out of the Iowa legislature this session.

IowaHouse.org/StatehouseNews/6-24-15

A bipartisan bill to expand broadband internet access to more homes, schools and businesses was signed into law by Governor Branstad last week. The bill also contains language regarding uniformity for local governments when approving cell tower siting applications.

Broadband
Communication providers identified the cost of laying fiber optics as one of, if not the, main barrier to expansion of broadband service into rural Iowa. Under House File 641, a provider can apply for and receive a ten-year property tax exemption for the installation of broadband in identified targeted areas. The Legislature also created a Broadband Grant Fund that providers can access for assistance, up to 15% of qualified installation projects.

A targeted service area is one that is defined to an area that doesn’t have a communication service provider that offers or facilitates broadband service at or above 25 megabits per second of download speed and 3 megabits per second of upload speed. The property tax exemption will be for projects that begin on or after July 1, 2015, and will no longer be available for projects beginning July 1, 2020.

Cell Tower Siting

A uniform process was created for the location of new cell towers, modifications of existing cell towers, and collocation of cell towers and the rights and responsibilities of local governments for approval of the towers. The goal of the legislation is find the right balance between how much information must be provided by the cell tower applicant and how much authority a local government can have over these decisions.

Applicants (cell tower companies) will be required to provide an explanation as to why they are asking to build new rather than to collocate with an existing tower. Local governments feel that this information is important to help them in make an unbiased decision. Likewise, local governments must approve an application for a new tower in 150 days, or the application is automatically approved. This gives applicants a definitive timeline to help with their business decisions.

Branstad Throws $21 Million At Egyptian Fertilizer Company While Telling Iowa Schools to F*** Off

Alecprogressiowa.org

Branstad Funds Orascom Instead of Schools

DES MOINES — The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) today approved an additional $21.5 million in tax incentives for the Iowa Fertilizer Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Orascom Construction Industries. The total granted to Orascom by IEDA is now nearly $110 million, and today’s decision comes just days after the Iowa legislature adjourned a contentious session where revenue shortfalls played a role in every budgetary decision.

In July of 2014, Public Policy Polling released a survey showing widespread opposition to granting another set of tax incentives for Orascom. 55% of registered voters in Iowa were opposed, and just 22% were in favor.

In response to today’s decision by IEDA, Progress Iowa executive director Matt Sinovic issued the following statement:

“Today’s decision by the Branstad administration to grant Orascom another $21.5 million is shameful. How can the Governor tell teachers or state employees that we have the money for an Egyptian fertilizer company, but not for our schools or other programs we value? The Governor’s priorities are misguided and out of step with everyday Iowans.”

“Orascom has taken advantage of every giveaway from the Branstad administration, fired more than 1,100 workers, and then had the audacity to come back and ask for more. Unfortunately, IEDA never knows when to stand up for Iowa values and say enough is enough.”

“Every budget decision shows what our state values. Our legislature and Governor chose not to adequately fund education this year. The Governor ignored the legislature and chose to shut down half of our state’s mental health facilities. But somehow, some way, this Egyptian fertilizer company keeps receiving millions of dollars from a state that supposedly can’t afford much of anything else.”

“Today’s decision demonstrates that our Governor and legislature don’t value our schools, state workers, or those in need of mental health care as much as they value a foreign corporation with a poor track record.”

Progress Iowa is a multi-issue progressive advocacy organization with a network of more than 60,000 progressives. Year-round, Progress Iowa advocates for a stronger middle class, first-class public education, and fairness for all Iowans under the law.

Contact: Matt Sinovic, (515) 423-0530

###

Background:

Public Policy Polling Survey: Strong Opposition to Orascom Deal in Iowa
scribd.com/doc/234240151/Public-Policy-Polling-Survey-Strong-Opposition-to-Orascom-Deal-in-Iowa

Iowa Fertilizer Company gets another tax incentive award
dailygate.com/news/article_7ce2d88a-16a4-11e5-b72c-df6f47f16918.html

Iowa fertilizer plant seeks additional $21.5 million
desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2015/06/18/iowa-fertilizer-incentives-economic-development-authority/28952201/

Iowa Republicans Attempt To Dismantle Public Schools; Democrats Try To Stop Them

iowa capitolsenate.iowa.gov/democrats

On the Iowa Senate Democrats website: 

The Legislature closed out the 2015 session with Senate Democrats opting to end five months of gridlock on school funding. The goal of the compromise is to maintain educational opportunities and boost student achievement.

The final agreement provides an additional $156 million for the 2015-16 school year. The compromise includes a 1.25 percent increase in basic aid for our local schools as well as an extra $56 million in one-time funding for Iowa schools this fall.

The attention now turns to Governor Terry Branstad, who must sign this funding or veto the compromise. A veto would result in larger class sizes, fewer course offerings and extracurricular activities, and higher property taxes. Please contact the Governor, and ask him to sign into law the school funding approved by the Legislature in Senate File 510 and House File 666. You can e-mail him by going to www.governor.iowa.gov/constituent-services/register-an-opinion or call his office at 515-281-5211.

After several lean years, Iowa’s improving economy makes it possible to do more for our students and schools. The state has nearly $1 billion in savings, but as support for our public schools has become divided along party lines, Iowa’s investment has dropped to $1,600 less per student than the national average.

In addition to ensuring our K-12 schools can make ends meet this fall, we also voted this year for:

• Continuing a teacher leadership effort that is bringing the best techniques to more classrooms.

• Affordable tuition, job training and skilled workforce initiatives at our community colleges.

• An increase for our state universities that should allow them to continue their tuition freeze.

• Need-based financial aid to help Iowans attend our private colleges.

As we set our sights on funding for the 2016-17 school year, Senate Democrats will continue to work with parents, teachers, community leaders and students to make the case for investing more in educational opportunities that help Iowans of all ages build a successful future.

Whatsamatta With Kansas? Lots!

Iowa Fiscal Partnership

Catching up on some old reading I finally got around to reading Peter Fisher’s synopsis of the disastrous Kansas budget over at Iowa Fiscal Partnership.

Justice Louis Brandeis once called states “the laboratories of democracy.” As the major laboratory for crazy right wing anti-tax, anti-government policies Kansas has pretty much proven that their policies don’t work.

Here is the synopsis:

Keeping Ahead of the Kansans

By Iowa Fiscal Partnership
4/9/15
IFP POLICY SNAPSHOT /

Iowa’s Neighbors Show the Folly of Drastic Cuts to State Income Tax

• Big income-tax cuts in Kansas have dramatically reduced funding for schools, health care and other services.

By Peter S. Fisher

As state legislators consider drastic cuts in Iowa’s income tax, they would do well to consider the experience of our neighbor Kansas, which enacted a huge income tax cut in 2012, and cut taxes again in 2013. These cuts have dramatically reduced state funding for schools, health care, and other services.

These Kansas tax cuts were touted as a powerful economic development tool. Businesses and jobs would flock to Kansas, and growth would be so strong that, according to some, state tax revenues would actually increase.

Instead, the state of Kansas has been forced to cut school funding each year since enactment. At a time when the majority of states have increased education funding to make up for cuts during the recession, general state aid in Kansas has continued to fall, and per pupil funding is 15 percent below pre-recession levels, with school closings and increased class sizes the result. Two districts recently announced they will have to end the school year early for lack of funds. The state recently abandoned the school funding formula; aid is no longer tied to enrollment. Most of the state’s reserves have been used up just to keep services afloat, leaving the state with no cushion to soften the effects of the next recession. The state’s bond rating has been lowered.

As for the tax cut being “a shot of adrenaline” for the state’s economy, as the governor predicted, the anticipated job growth did not materialize. Instead, private sector jobs in Kansas have grown by 3.5 percent since the tax cuts took effect, well below the 5.0 percent growth nationally over the same period.

It is instructive to consider as well the experience in Wisconsin, where a large personal income tax cut took effect at the start of 2013, with similar results: subsequent job growth of 3.4 percent, farther below the norm than in Kansas.

None of this should come as a surprise. Most major academic research studies have concluded that individual income tax cuts do not boost state economic growth; in fact, states that cut income taxes the most in the 1990s or in the early 2000s had slower growth in jobs and income than other states. Businesses need an educated workforce, and drastic cuts to education are likely to make it difficult to attract new workers, who care about their children’s schools at least as much as they care about taxes. Nor will income tax cuts help small businesses create jobs. Only a tiny fraction of those paying income taxes own a business, and of those most are not in a position to create more jobs, or can expand employment only if demand for their services increases, regardless of taxes. (footnotes at link)

Just Thursday the Kansas legislature overwhelmingly rejected a new tax plan in the face of huge cutbacks for education and drastic lowering of bond ratings. Early Friday morning there was a reversal, but taxes enacted were just tinkering at the edges. More on that here:

Kansas is hardly alone in this. Presidential hopeful Gov. Scott Walker has turned a similar trick in Wisconsin as noted above.

In Louisiana, the legislature and the presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal are locked in negotiations over how to pay for any services and yet adhere to anti-tax guidelines laid out by Grover Norquist. Yep, legislators turned to Grover Norquist for guidance. Norquist is the unelected self proclaimed anti-tax guru.

We are watching these states and others with Republican governors and legislatures circle the drain of state insolvency while they turn their states into little pits of hell on earth for their citizens. Iowa is but one senator from joining the combination of Republican dominated legislature plus a Republican governor that seems to be the formula for disaster. Thus, while the presidential election gets the press, the local races are extremely important.

While stories abound of states cutting budgets and strangling themselves, Minnesota and California have both shown that fairer taxation and public spending for common good programs can have a great effect on improving the economy. From an analysis of Minnesota’s economy:

Minnesota is one of the top-ten best economies in the country; it is also a high-tax and high-spending economy.

“For so long, the accepted formula is that in order to have a healthy state economy, you have to have low taxes, low spending, and right-to-work laws,” Haglund says. “Minnesota actually has turned all of that on its head.”

How You Can Help Eminent Domain Bill Pass This Week

ed fallon

Ed Fallon

fallonforum.com

Time for “trump card” on eminent domain bill

Dear Friends,

With the legislative session likely to end this week and the eminent domain bill languishing, it’s time to pull out all the stops. I ask you to do three things:

(1) Call or write your state senator to ask Senate leadership to bring up SF 506 for debate NOW! Similarly, call or write your state representative to ask House leadership to bring up HSB 249 for debate NOW! If you’re not certain who represents you at the statehouse, go to find your legislator.

(2) Tomorrow, I announce the “trump card” in this fight, one that I believe has the potential to finally convince Iowa’s political leadership to do the right thing and pass the eminent domain bill. Help me get the word out TODAY by cutting and pasting this press release and sharing it online and with your local media:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
9:30 a.m. Monday, June 1, 2015
Des Moines, Iowa
For more information, contact Ed Fallon at (515) 238-6404

Fallon to announce 11th hour “trump card” strategy on eminent domain bill
“It’s time to hit elected officials where they are most vulnerable.”

Tuesday, June 2 at 10:30 a.m. outside Governor Branstad’s office (Room GO9), former Iowa lawmaker Ed Fallon will announce what he calls the “trump card” strategy to move the eminent domain bill (SF 506 and HSB 249) forward. The bill would establish a fairer, more level playing field and provide some protections to landowners along the path of the proposed Bakken oil pipeline. In April, the bill easily passed a subcommittee of the Iowa House and a full committee of the Iowa Senate. But it since has stalled out, and leaders in both chambers are preventing it from coming up for debate.

“The vast majority of Iowans are opposed to government allowing a private corporation to confiscate farmland for an oil pipeline that serves no public purpose,” said Fallon. “Thousands of Iowans have pleaded with lawmakers at the Statehouse and at meetings in their home districts. They have written letter after letter to legislators, Governor Branstad, the Iowa Utilities Board and local newspapers. For my part, I have walked 400 miles across Iowa and been arrested at the Governor’s office. Yet it all seems to fall on deaf ears.”

“Now it’s do or die,” concluded Fallon. “The bill has to pass this week or landowners along the path of the pipeline will not be given the consideration and help they deserve. It’s time to pull out all the stops and embrace a different strategy. It’s time to hit elected officials obstructing the bill where they are most vulnerable.”

At the press conference on Tuesday, Fallon will announce the details of that strategy and share a written statement.

Thanks! – Ed Fallon

Bipartisan Issues Are Being Ignored In Iowa House

iowa capitol2016 Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made a huge splash around Iowa over the weekend drawing large, enthusiastic crowds.  Martin O’Malley was also in Iowa on the campaign trail. Check out this short video by East Des Moines Democrats of O’Malley answering a question about campaign finance reform. 

As caucus season looms, we still have to keep an eye on what’s happening in the Iowa legislature as Republicans rigidly defend and promote the ALEC agenda, ignore or obstruct anything good for Iowa, and attempt to dismantle public education.

From the Iowa Senate Democrats blog:

Bipartisan priorities deserve a vote in the house

As we near the end of the 2015 session, there are many bipartisan issues that have been overlooked in the Iowa House. This includes initiatives to make our communities safer, improve health care and boost quality of life that won the support of Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Senate.

Among them are efforts to:

  • Keep all students safe with adequate training for schools to investigate harassment and bullying, including alleged incidents that occur outside of school, and to impose school discipline.
  • Combat human trafficking through public awareness efforts, special training for law enforcement officers and making the crime a forcible felony.
  • Prohibit the use of GPS to track a person without legitimate purpose or authorization.
  • Give adoptive parents time to bond with their new child by requiring businesses with maternity leave programs to give adoptive parents the same time off as birth parents.
  • Improve detection of breast cancer by notifying women in their mammogram results if they have dense breast tissue, may be at greater risk of developing breast cancer and should consult with a physician about additional screening options.
  • Forbid felons from receiving life insurance proceeds if they commit a violent crime against an insured person within the six months prior to the death of that person.
  • Provide immunity from prosecution for possessing, sharing or using controlled substances or drug paraphernalia to assist those suffering from an opioid overdose.

The House has a second chance to reconsider these bipartisan ideas because they were included in Senate File 510, which was approved by the Senate on May 14.

Heartsill’s Anti-Gay Witch Hunt Empowers Bullies, Misleads Educators

progress iowa

For Immediate Release: May 28th, 2015
Contact: Matt Sinovic, (515) 423-0530

Des Moines, Iowa — In recent weeks, State Representative Greg Heartsill (R-Chariton) has engaged in a series of attacks and attempts to misinform his fellow legislators, Iowa educators, and his constituents about the Governor’s annual Conference on LGBTQ Youth, as well as the anti-bullying bill under consideration in this year’s legislature.

After claiming not to know what LGBTQ means during a recent floor debate, Heartsill misled his colleagues in the Iowa House during remarks criticizing the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, repeating false attacks made by Bob Vander Plaats and the Family Leader organization. Using the same false information, Heartsill misled public school superintendents in a letter demanding to know who attended the conference from their schools.

Progress Iowa Executive Director Matt Sinovic today issued the following statement in response to Heartsill’s mounting attacks on the Governor’s anti-bullying conference and Iowa’s LGBTQ youth:

“Representative Greg Heartsill has recently embarked on a disturbing crusade that will lead to more LGBTQ students being bullied in school. Heartsill has sent a number of communications demanding information about the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, despite the fact that the event is not funded by taxpayer dollars. He has demanded information from Iowa educators about their level of participation in the event. And he has spread false information, much of it repeated verbatim from Bob Vander Plaats and the Family Leader, who have been attacking the Governor’s Conference for years. Heartsill has focused solely on the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, and to my knowledge has not attempted to gather similar information about other privately administered events.”

“Heartsill’s singling out the Governors Conference in this manner is an anti-gay witch hunt, plain and simple.”

“Instead of engaging in an anti-gay crusade, Representative Heartsill and the House of Representatives should support the proposal before them to better address bullying in Iowa schools. The legislation passed with bipartisan support by an overwhelming 43-7 margin in the Senate, has the support of Democrats in the Iowa House, as well as Republican governor Terry Branstad.”

“It’s time to stop the distractions and misinformation, and start protecting Iowa students from bullying. Representative Heartsill should end his anti-gay witch hunt immediately.”

Progress Iowa is a multi-issue progressive advocacy organization with a network of more than 60,000 progressives. Year-round, Progress Iowa advocates for a stronger middle class, first-class public education, and fairness for all Iowans under the law.

Background:
Greg Heartsill sends ‘creepy’ letter to schools for LGBTQ info

What’s LGBTQ? Asks Republican voting on LGBTQ legislation

Anti-bullying bill languishes, still alive

School Funding, Affordable College, Bipartisan Bills: The Courtney Report

Courtney Report

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT, QUALITY SCHOOLS REMAIN KEY STICKING POINTS

Disagreements over education funding are preventing the Legislature from adjourning for the year.

Iowa families count on great local schools to give their children and grandchildren a leg up in life. High-quality schools make Iowa workers among the nation’s most productive, which in turn attracts high-skill, high-wage jobs and businesses to our state.

Educational opportunity has long been a key factor in Iowa’s economic growth, and economic opportunity is directly related to education funding. Funding determines if schools can pay teachers and staff, how much one-on-one attention students receive, and whether classrooms have up-to-date materials and technology. Funding will help determine the success of the education reforms launched in 2013.

Today, Iowa invests $1,600 less per student than the national average. Education leaders say a 3 percent increase in funding for our schools is necessary to prevent Iowa from falling farther behind.

Republicans, who control the Iowa House, proposed an increase of 1.25 percent five months ago. Democrats, who hold the majority in the Iowa Senate, approved a 4 percent increase earlier this year and have made several attempts to compromise since.

We are willing to split the difference by giving schools a 2.625 percent increase, which would prevent cuts at most schools. Unfortunately, House Republicans won’t budge. As a recent Quad City Times editorial put it:

“Instead of doing the work of legislating, House Republicans hung fast to their session-opening position of limiting education funding to less than the rate of inflation, assuring unnecessary and harmful education cuts for Iowa schoolchildren.”

So far, the House position has forced schools across Iowa to send out “pink slips” to more than 1,000 Iowa teachers. This is not the way to strengthen student achievement, Iowa communities and our state’s future.

With Iowa’s finances in good shape, this is the year to renew our investment in education and our commitment to a strong economy.

KEEPING HIGHER ED AFFORDABLE
For many, school does not stop with high school graduation. Increasingly, good jobs require higher education or worker training. Iowans of all ages and backgrounds need access to college to build a better future for themselves and their families.

Ideally, these opportunities should be as affordable as possible. Taking on massive student debt is another roadblock to achieving success, to strengthening our middle class and to growing our economy.

Iowa students already graduate with more student loan debt than in most other states. That leads some graduates to leave the state in search of higher paying jobs elsewhere. Yet the Republican House disagrees with us on the importance of college funding.

Community colleges work with employers to address local skilled worker shortages and provide an affordable path to a four-year degree. Senate Democrats propose investing $8 million more in Iowa’s community colleges. House Republicans oppose any increase.

At our three state universities, there will be a tuition freeze for in-state students for a third straight year under the Senate’s budget proposal. Senate Democrats also support an increase in tuition grants for Iowa students attending our private colleges.

In contrast, the budget plan approved by the House Republicans would force students to pay even more for their college education. The House budget actually cuts funding for the University of Iowa, Iowa State and need-based grants to Iowans attending our private colleges.

The budget approved by the Senate Democrats proves we can invest in education at all levels and balance the budget responsibly. We do it with an overall budget the same size as the budget proposed by Republican Governor Terry Branstad.

BIPARTISAN PRIORITIES DESERVE A VOTE IN THE HOUSE
As we near the end of the 2015 session, there are many bipartisan issues that have been overlooked in the Iowa House. This includes initiatives to make our communities safer, improve health care and boost quality of life that won the support of Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Senate.

Among them are efforts to:

* Keep all students safe with adequate training for schools to investigate harassment and bullying, including alleged incidents that occur outside of school, and to impose school discipline.
* Combat human trafficking through public awareness efforts, special training for law enforcement officers and making the crime a forcible felony.
* Prohibit the use of GPS to track a person without legitimate purpose or authorization.
* Give adoptive parents time to bond with their new child by requiring businesses with maternity leave programs to give adoptive parents the same time off as birth parents.
* Improve detection of breast cancer by notifying women in their mammogram results if they have dense breast tissue, may be at greater risk of developing breast cancer and should consult with a physician about additional screening options.
* Forbid felons from receiving life insurance proceeds if they commit a violent crime against an insured person within the six months prior to the death of that person.
* Provide immunity from prosecution for possessing, sharing or using controlled substances or drug paraphernalia to assist those suffering from an opioid overdose.
The House has a second chance to reconsider these bipartisan ideas because they were included in Senate File 510, which was approved by the Senate on May 14.