Week 3: "Water Quality" Bill, ICN scandal, $52M in mid-year cuts, and more.
BUDGET CRISIS HURTS IOWA FAMIILES
In 2010, Governor Terry Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds were elected on two promises: Raising family incomes by 25 percent and creating 200,000 new Iowa jobs within four years. Republican legislators wholeheartedly endorsed them.
The Governor and Republican-controlled Legislature failed to keep those promises. Instead, with complete control of the Iowa Statehouse, Republicans are driving down incomes, destroying jobs, borrowing money and cutting services.
Their misplaced priorities and mismanagement of taxpayer money have made life worse for Iowa families and their communities. They have passed state budgets that have grossly underfunded our schools; turned Iowa’s respected, state-run Medicaid safety net into a national disaster; stripped Iowans of workplace rights; and showered wealthy, out-of-state corporations with tax cuts and tax credits.
This week, Senate Republicans announced mid-year budget cuts totaling more than $50 million. Some of the most damaging cuts will decrease opportunities and increase out-of-pocket costs for Iowans getting job training and other education at our community colleges, as well as students at our state universities.
This latest round of cuts shows a pattern of mismanagement that continues to hurt working families across Iowa.
Senate Democrats are ready to work with Republicans to restore fiscal stability to our state budget by investing in students and job-creation initiatives, and reining in out-of-control spending on tax credits.
SOLAR ENERGY CAN CREATE MORE GOOD JOBS
Iowa is known across the country as a leader in renewable energy, including ethanol, biodiesel and wind. These industries are built on Iowa’s natural resources and benefit Iowans through lower energy costs, increased crop values and new jobs. In 2016 alone, Iowa jobs in clean energy grew by 7 percent.
Solar energy holds even more promise for Iowa. The sun that helps grow our crops also can power homes, farms and businesses.
Since 2012, Iowans have installed more than 2,500 solar projects in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. These projects lower energy costs and raise property values, with rural counties leading the way. Many Iowa utilities recognize the appeal of solar and are making it a viable option for their customers. More than 700 Iowans now work in the solar field, and 47 Iowa businesses are part of the solar energy supply chain.
The demand for solar presents Iowa with continued opportunities for growth. We can do our part by ensuring Iowans have the knowledge to grow the industry and the skills to fill the jobs.
To learn more about the benefits of solar energy and how you can install it and use it, visit the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association website.
PERPETRATORS SHOULD PAY FOR BAD BEHAVIOR – NOT TAXPAYERS
A group of Senators has introduced legislation to ensure state employees – not Iowa taxpayers – are financially liable for their own bad behavior in the workplace.
SF 2107 is proposed in the wake of a jury decision last year to award $2.25 million to former Senate Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson in a sexual harassment lawsuit she brought against Iowa Senate Republicans. Anderson was fired in May 2013, just hours after complaining of a hostile work environment. Subsequently, Anderson settled for $1.75 million to avoid a lengthy appeal process.
Iowans are disgusted by the harassment, discrimination and retaliation by Republican Senators and staff that this case brought to light. Most Iowans can’t believe they’re on the hook for $1.75 million because of the misconduct and mismanagement of a few individuals.
Under current law, Iowa taxpayers must pay for such awards, and there’s no recourse to recoup the money from offending state employees. Taxpayers expect more from their leaders—especially in tight budget times when this money should be going toward our kids’ education, job-training programs and mental health care.
New legislation would allow the plaintiff to receive an award from the state but would require the State of Iowa to recover the money from the offenders. The bill applies to hostile work environment cases against the state, including sexual harassment.
We must send a message to legislators and other state employees who harass their co-workers or subordinates that their conduct will not be tolerated and that they will be held responsible for their behavior.
The proposed legislation is part of the national conversation about preventing harassment in the workplace, and part of our commitment to making the Statehouse a safe and healthy environment for all.
RUSHED BILL DOESN’T SOLVE IOWA’S WATER PROBLEMS
Water quality is a real problem that deserves a real solution. Senate File 512, which was rushed through the Iowa House this week and awaits the Governor’s signature, will not solve Iowa’s problems.
SF 512 is a Senate Republican bill from last year that takes $270 million from other priorities—like health care and our schools—to pay for water quality improvements. The bill also fails to ensure accountability by monitoring how well projects clean up our water and improve our soil.
We all want safe drinking water, natural resources that support a strong economy and a healthy environment for work and play. Unfortunately, Republicans did not take the time to truly solve Iowa’s concerns. A well-rounded approach with input from farmers, environmentalists and other concerned Iowans could produce more effective results.
PET PROTECTIONS PASS FIRST LEGISLATIVE HURDLE
People who torture, abuse, neglect or abandon dogs, cats and other companion animals will face harsher penalties if Senate File 421 becomes law. The bill has been approved by a three-person Senate subcommittee, clearing its first hurdle in the legislative process.
According to an Animal Legal Defense League report, Iowa has some of the weakest animal protection laws, ranking 49th among all 50 states. We’ve seen a number of animal hording cases in which offenders are found guilty of severe mistreatment of animals, yet proceed to accumulate more animals and mistreat them.
Under SF 421, anyone who has been found guilty of animal mistreatment will face more severe penalties for subsequent offenses. Upon conviction, a court will be able to prohibit them from owning or even living in the same home with an animal.
In addition, the bill makes it a crime for a person to leave an animal in a parked vehicle when it is extremely hot or cold, and allows law enforcement to rescue animals from parked vehicles if the animal appears to be suffering.
NEWS YOU CAN USE
Deadline approaches for Western Union claims
Iowans who wired money to scam artists via Western Union from 2004 through January 19, 2017 have until February 12 to submit a refund claim. Refunds will be made as a result of a $586 million settlement reached among Western Union, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. Apply for a refund at ftc.gov/wu or westernunionremission.com, or call 844-319-2124 for more information.
Farmers market association to hold winter workshop
The 20th Annual Iowa Farmers Market Workshop will be held February 3, at Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines. Topics to be covered include:
New FDA produce safety rules
Wine sampling and sales at markets
Insurance needs of vendors and markets
The state’s Double Up Food Bucks Program
A panel of market managers will share their successes and challenges, and attendees can get training for certification in the Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
More information and registration materials are available at www.iafarmersmarkets.org.
Radon is a silent killer in Iowa homes
January is Radon Action Month. Radon is a natural, radio-active gas that can cause major health problems. About 400 Iowans die from radon-induced lung cancer every year.
Radon seeps in through cracks in walls, basement foundations and other openings. The problem is you can’t see it, smell it or taste it.
More than half of Iowa homes have elevated levels of radon, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That's the largest percentage in the country.
Fortunately, detection is easy with an inexpensive test kit from your hardware store or the Iowa Department of Public Health. You can also order a kit from Iowa's Radon Hotline at 1-800-383-5992.
Learn more about radon and its risks in this video from the University of Iowa: https://youtu.be/Fuzl3Nb_ah0.