Supplemental State Aid set; debates begin on sanctuary city and collective bargaining bills

CAPITOL LETTERS

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE GARY WORTHAN

District 11, R-Storm Lake

It has been an extremely busy week in the House as we move forward on the business at hand rather than handling “old business” as we dealt with the slowdown in revenue as it applied to this year’s budget.  It has also been exciting and challenging as we started work on several bills on which emotions were running high.  We have had a contingent of anywhere from 10 to 20 state troopers in the building to maintain order.

The week began with debate on the Supplemental State Aid bill which sets funding for Iowa’s K-12 schools. This bill had made its way through committee work last week and came to the floor on Monday. The bill appropriates an additional $40 million to K-12 on a per pupil basis across the state bringing total state aid to $724 million. This is the first time in many years that the SSA has been set this early in the session which will allow local administrators and school boards ample time to set their budgets prior to the deadline.

Tuesday was when things really started to get interesting when we debated a sanctuary city bill in Public Safety Committee. The committee room is on the ground floor and normally accommodates 35 people comfortably. As I reached the bottom of the stairs, I was met by the crowd and had to push my way into the committee room. Prior to gavel in, two persons were escorted from the room; there must have been at least 60 people in the room. The two young women were escorted out, then ran around outside the building and began pounding on the windows of the committee room. The chair was forced to clear the room and then begin to readmit individuals in an attempt to keep order. Through the duration of the discussion, there were four state troopers in the room along with another half dozen outside.  Things remained relatively civil until the bill came up for a vote and 10 people were escorted out of the room, one at a time as they attempted to disrupt the voting process.

The excitement continued on Wednesday as both chambers began committee action on a bill to make changes to the code chapter that governs unions that bargain for public sector employees. Emotions always run high anytime a bill comes up that has anything to do with unions.  Chapter 20 of the code had not been updated since its original passage in 1974. Provisions in the law making it illegal to consider past agreements have resulted in the step increases in some state contracts to be in the 8% range, in line with the inflation rate in the 1980s. With health insurance and many other items having changed drastically since 1974, it was time for a tune up.  I applaud the unions and public sector employees that were here for the discussion as they were respectful and attentive. Outside of some minor heckling before and after the committee meetings, everything went well.

To finish off the week, this morning I floor managed a bill that will help our local counties and municipalities as they maintain and improve their transportation infrastructure. Projects employing federal funds require extensive design standards and reporting requirements that by some estimates increase costs by as much as 20%. With the passage of this bill, the Iowa Department of Transportation will retain all federal dollars on their projects and replace the federal dollars that would have gone to local projects with state dollars in a one to one exchange. This will allow the locals to bypass the restrictive federal regulations and put 15 to 20% more dollars into concrete and steel. IDOT has the manpower and expertise to manage the federal grants while it is a challenge for local entities that do only one or two of these projects per year. This will allow for a much more efficient use of scarce funds while not affecting the total spent or the number projects completed.

It looks like the pace of action will be the same next week as we continue to do the work of the citizens of Iowa.  I look forward to seeing many of you at our forum on Feb. 18 at King’s Pointe.