Legislators expect overtime for 85th Assembly

Posted April 10, 2013 at 8:19 pm

by Steve Peterson

The 2013-2014 budget discussion time at the Iowa Capitol may mean overtime for the 85th General Assembly in Des Moines.

“I think we will go beyond May 3,” said Representative Dwayne Alons (R-Hull) at a Hawarden legislative forum held April 5.

“A $400 million difference between the Senate Democrats and the House Republicans is a significant difference and will be hard to find compromise on,” said State Senator Randy Feenstra (R-Hull). “The major differences are in education, Health and Human Services and Medicaid Expansion.”

“Today marked the end of funnel week which means any bill not approved is dead unless it has to do with taxes,” said Feenstra.

Several topics were covered at the Friday afternoon forum at Hawarden City Offices.

The legislators spoke on the so-far failed effort to pass a Farm Liability Bill, which would be a response to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling in favor of a farm visitor who suffered injuries.

“It would have a big impact because 4-H clubs and schools would no longer be able to visit farms,” said Feenstra. “I think the Supreme Court went over-board.”

Jeff Rehder of Rehder Farms of Hawarden attended the forum. His farm sites host West Sioux students for visits.

“We are going down the same path as last year regarding property tax reduction. Nothing is happening,” said Feenstra on the need for commercial property tax reform. “Last year the Republican House and Governor Terry Bran-stad were pushing for a 20 percent reduction in property taxes. Senate Democrats were on board at 10 percent but they could not get their bill passed by their own members.”

It was noted the Democrats are again having trouble with their own members again supporting any type of property tax reduction, he said. “Very disappointing.”

“Our Main Street businesses are paying twice the tax amount as residential homeowners in Iowa,” said Feenstra. “The local coffee shop, pharmacy, bakery and hardware stores struggle to keep their doors open when they are paying $10,000 to $15,000 in property taxes before they even sell one item.”

I am willing to work with the Democrats to get something passed this year,” he said. “However they aren’t showing any interest in wanting help in this policy area.”

“For smaller communities, this is the biggest issue in preventing them from growing, which generates countless empty store fronts on Main Street,” said Feenstra.

Medicaid Expansion is another big issue, legislators said.

“It would mean a pretty substantial increase in costs for Iowa, if 150,000 to 180,000 people are added to Medicaid as the federal government wants. The federal government says it will pay for this for three years but what happens after that?” said Feenstra.

Research done by Alons showed the impact of Affordable Care Act (ACA) on Medicaid expansion. In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced a reversal of his opposition and support of Medicaid expansion.

However, it is unlikely that an expansion passes the legislature as it lacks sufficient support, said Alons. Republican legislators in Florida announced an alternative plan that expands the state’s Healthy Kids program to provide subsidies for private insurance to people with an income level up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the same income level used in Medicaid expansion.

“Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, has announced her support for a bill in her state that expands Medicaid eligibility. The bill faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled legislature,” he said.

“Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, faced disagreement from legislative leaders last week despite his campaign to expand Medicaid. Five different proposals have been voted down in the legislature in recent weeks and the Senate and House leadership released a letter last week reaffirming their position against expansion,” said Alons.

“In Montana and Michigan, efforts have stalled to pass Medicaid expansion,” he said.

“In Iowa Gov. Branstad continues his opposition to Medicaid expansion legislation,” said Alons. “Efforts to pass Medicaid expansion legislation have been split in the legislature. Senate Democrats have passed legislation expanding the program while the House has not. House Republicans continue to pursue a plan that focuses on Iowa and the issues unique to our state,” said Alons.

On another matter, Alons said he objected to a legislative effort which would have made it easier for local governments to raise bond amounts without voter approval of 60 percent. This has not been passed.

Alons mentioned one bill, which has not been approved so far, has been the need to keep gun ownership permits confidential so people could not be tempted to steal weapons or other items if others’ personal information becomes a public record.

“This week the Senate finally moved on Education Reform, taking the bill a step closer to its final form. House File 215, which the House approved in February, came out of the Senate Education Committee on April 2 and off the floor on April 3,” said Alons. “It was amended with the Senate’s version of Education Reform, Senate File 423, which the Senate passed earlier. The House subsequently rejected the Senate’s amendment on House File 215 on April 4, and the Senate quickly insisted on their amendment for putting the bill in conference committee.”

“While there are similarities between the two versions of the bill, the differences are significant at the moment,” he said. “The Senate stripped out nearly all the accountability that existed in the House bill, removed all parental choice, home school and private school provisions, and added various pieces of legislation that the House has not supported over the last several years.”

“Additionally, the costs are around $40 million more than the House version, and the complexity of their system makes it impossible for the program to have any lasting integrity,” said Alons.

“The Joint Rules of the legislature state that within one legislative day of the move to conference, the leaders of both houses are to make appointments to the committee,” he explained. “The committee will consist of 10 members, three majority party members from each chamber, and two minority party members from each chamber. Following the appointment, the committee has to then meet before the end of the next legislative day, shall select a chair, and shall begin discussion.”

The House of Representatives approved the HSB 4, Education Reform, by a 53-44 vote on Feb. 20. On April 4, the House action was sent to the Conference Committee after the Senate approved it by a vote of 26-24 on April 3.

Alons told a small gathering at Hawarden City Offices of attempts to hold a voluntary Bible Study each week and a Prayer Caucus rally set for April 16.

“We’re trying to bring God back to the public square. Many of the freshmen legislators attend the weekly prayer meeting and we had a great turnout for Iowa Prayer Day, held March 28,” said Alons.

Feenstra presented his Income Tax Reduction-Simplification Plan.

“It was vetted by many accountants and other stakeholder groups and they have expressed support for it.” said Feenstra about his plan:

• It lowers everyone’s income taxes by 15 percent over a three-year period.

• It dramatically simplifies the current system.

• It increases benefits for those who have children.

• It gives a taxpayer the option to use this new plan or stay with the old plan.

• It increases the standard deduction from $1,900 to $3,000.

• It allows a person to keep the current deductions and tax credits.

• It sets up a commission to create further tax simplification.

Currently, the state has over-collected nearly $800 million in income tax revenue, said Feenstra. This plan will give back approximately $600 million to Iowans over the next three years. Additionally, this should help balance our revenue with expenditures, eliminating the over-collection problem.

“This comprehensive tax idea is receiving bi-partisian support,” he said. “I look forward to presenting this final policy plan to the full Senate.”

Contact Alons at 515-281-3221; email, dwayne.alons@legisl.iowa.gov. Committee assignments are Agriculture, Economic Growth, Judiciary and he is Chairman of Veterans’ Affairs and a member of Appropriations Subcommittee.

Contact Feenstra: randy.feenstra@legis.iowa.gov; website, www.newgenerationrepublican.com, phone 712-439-9244.

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