A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Wednesday, March 4, 2020:
INVEST IN IOWA PLAN: Representatives of tax policy, environmental, mental health, business and government interests overwhelmingly supported Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Invest in Iowa Act during an hourlong Senate subcommittee at the Statehouse on Wednesday.
Speakers called the governor’s multipronged plan “game-changing,” “bold” and “historic.”
The plan seeks a penny sales tax increase while significantly cutting income taxes, funding water quality and easing property taxes by shifting mental-health costs to the state.
Concerns were expressed about the state’s reliability in taking over the property-tax-based mental health system without some backup guarantee, but overall those present liked the plan to use part of the sales tax proceeds to fund water quality, natural resources and quality of life projects as well as provide tax relief, improve Iowa’s competitive position and attract and retain skilled workers.
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Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said the meeting was informational only, but Republicans on the five-member panel generally were supportive of the governor’s objectives while minority Democrats cautiously expressed some misgivings.
Overall, it appears the stakeholders are very supportive of what the governor has proposed,” said Chapman, who noted he was not ready to support a sales tax hike but neither would he rule it out. “I think everything is on the table at this point.”
SENATE CONFIRMATIONS: The Iowa Senate on Wednesday approved 52 of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ appointees to various state posts.
Included in the 48-0 en bloc vote were Maj. Gen. Ben Corell as adjutant general of the Iowa National Guard, Julie Andres as a member of the state Racing & Gaming Commission and Andrew Boettger, Ralph Haskins, Julie Weinacht and Helen Miller to the Iowa Board of Parole.
Miller, a former state legislator, also was appointed as parole board chair but that individual vote will be taken up by the Senate at a later time.
Corell was appointed adjutant general in August after the retirement in May of Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr, who had served in the post for 10 years and in the Guard for 40 years.
A two-thirds majority, or 34 votes of the 50-member Iowa Senate, is needed for a gubernatorial nominee to win confirmation.
LOWER VOTING AGE: The House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a proposed constitutional amendment to update the qualifications for voting.
SJR 2002 https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=88&ba=SJR2002 would reduce the voting age in the Iowa Constitution from 21 to 18 except that a person who will be 18 by the next general election would be able to vote in the primary election. That would bring the voting age in line with the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
SJR 2002 was approved by the Senate 50-0.
If approved by the House and approved by the next General Assembly, the measure could be submitted to voters.
SYNTHETIC URINE: On a 55-42 vote, House Republicans approved HF 2473 https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=88&ba=HF%202473 to create a misdemeanor offense for attempting to defeat a pre-employment drug test by submitting fake urine.
Proponents of the bill said employers have told them prospective employees are trying to pass drug tests by using synthetic urine or urine additives that can be purchased from online vendors.
The use of the fake urine can allow them to circumvent tests designed to rid workplaces of drug or alcohol use that could create safety concerns.
The bill would create a simple misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $65 to $625 for the first violation.
Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, opposed the bill, which she called an attempt to burden the justice system in service to the failed drug war.
PRISON INMATE DIES: Officials with the Iowa Department of Corrections announced that prison inmate Everett Roy Lyon was pronounced dead due to natural causes at 3:58 a.m. Wednesday at the Great River Medical Center in Burlington, where he had been sent for a suspected heart attack.
Lyon, 71, had been serving a life sentence for a first-degree murder conviction in Marshall County. He was accused of multiple crimes committed in Polk and Marshall counties and was serving the life term and concurrent indeterminate sentences on three other criminal convictions.
His incarceration began on April 10, 1979.
WATER-TESTING GRANTS: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded the state Department of Education a $460,000 grant to help public schools and child-care centers in Iowa test drinking water for lead and learn more about reducing lead exposure.
The EPA’s grant program — which is voluntary for schools and child-care providers — is designed as a first step toward reducing lead exposure in children and could cover up to 40 percent of the eligible schools and child-care sites in Iowa, according to state officials.
Exposure to lead can damage the developing brains and nervous systems of children, especially those under age 6, according to state health officials.
Grants will be administered by the state education agency in partnership with the State Hygienic Laboratory, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Education officials plan to prioritize funding for public schools and child-care sites that serve children under age 6 that were built before 1985 and have 50 percent or more of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
Beyond that, funding will be available to all public schools and child-care providers on a first-come, first-served basis.