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legislature2019

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019:

HOUSE ETHICS: Less than 48 hours after approving nearly $90 million more in state funding for K-12 education on a largely party-line vote, the Iowa House unanimously approved its code of ethics and rules for dealing with lobbyists.

“At a time when public confidence in the political process is at a fairly low ebb, I think it is particularly important we do all we can to increase the public’s faith in the integrity of the political process,” Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, told colleagues as he introduced HR 6. “Part of that effort is to pass a strong code of ethics and also some strong lobbyist rules.”

One change was to include “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the protected classes recognized by the code. That, Ethics Committee member Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said, recognizes “the individual nature of Iowans … to say we do not accept discrimination against people on the basis of these issues.”

The ethics code now reads: “Harassment is a form of discrimination based on any protected basis, including race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, age, marital status, veteran status, gender identity, sexual orientation …”

The House also approved HCR 9, the joint rules governing lobbyists.

Both were approved on voice votes.

SAVE EXTENSION: The House Education Committee voted 21-2 to extend SAVE, the one-penny sales tax for schools, for 20 years. Under current law, it will expire in 2029.

HSB 18 would increase the amount of SAVE — which stands for Secure an Advanced Vision for Education — that goes into property tax relief. The Property Tax Equity Relief fund would grow by 1 percent per year when SAVE revenue grows by 2 percent over the previous year. The fund would be capped at $12 million.

In fiscal 2017, the 1-cent sales tax yielded $454.3 million to SAVE and $9.75 million to the relief fund. If revenue grows as projected — 2.45 percent annually — in 2051, $893 million will go to SAVE and $121.9 million to the fund.

HSB 18 also would require school districts to address security measures before spending SAVE dollars on projects such as athletic facilities. Also, $1 million would go to career academies proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. That would increase to $5 million a year as revenues increase.

HSB 18 is the same as SF 74, which has been approved by the Senate Education Committee. The bills have been referred to Ways and Means committees because they involve taxation.

TOBACCO TAX HIKE: State taxes on a pack of cigarettes would increase by $1.50 under a proposal by Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City.

HF 364 would increase the per pack tax from $1.36 to $2.86.

The Legislature last passed a tobacco tax increase in March 2007.

The bill also would increase the tax on tobacco products from 50 percent of the wholesale sales price to 67 percent of the wholesale sales price. The bill eliminates the cap on the tax for cigars, which was 50 cents per cigar.

JUDICIAL NOMINATING: Coming soon to a radio and website near you: ads from an advocacy group that opposes proposed changes to the method for selecting commissioners who serve on state panels that nominate Iowa’s judges.

Justice Not Politics, which is conducting a statewide campaign to bolster grass roots opposition to the legislative proposal, announced a $25,000 investment in ads airing on radio stations and online over the coming weeks. The ads will encourage Iowans to contact their elected state officials, the group said in a news release.

Currently, commissions vet candidates for Iowa judicial posts and present finalists to the governor, who then appoints one of the finalists to the bench. Half the commissioners are appointed by the governor, the other half by licensed attorneys across the state.

A proposal by Republican legislators and supported by GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds would remove attorneys from the process and instead give those nominations to legislative leaders.

Supporters of the proposed legislation have cited recent Iowa Supreme Court rulings they disagree with and a desire to remove the attorneys’ influence.

Opponents say the proposal amounts to a Republican power grab and an effort to politicize the courts.

HANDS-FREE DRIVING: Legislation that would ban mobile phone use while driving except while using hands-free technology received unanimous support in the Senate’s Transportation Committee.

SF 76 is now eligible for debate in the full Senate. The House currently is not considering similar legislation.

Citing safety concerns and the availability of hands-free technology to help drivers, Senate transportation committee members approved the bill, 12-0.

ANIMAL CRUELTY: A proposal to stiffen state animal cruelty laws passed a Senate subcommittee.

Among the myriad changes under the proposal: unlike current law, a person could be convicted of animal abuse of their own pet, a court would not have to prove “sadistic” and “depraved” intent as in current law, and some penalties are increased.

The legislation, SSB 1075, also states it applies only to pets or so-called companion animals, and not livestock.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said he intends to pass the proposal out of the Senate Judiciary Committee he leads.

A similar but less broad proposal passed a Senate subcommittee earlier this session. One legislator said he hopes the parties can come together to develop one proposal that could gain enough support to earn passage in the full Senate.

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