Area lawmakers differ on water quality bill

DES MOINES — After years of debate, the state legislature sent a water quality bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk earlier this week; two area lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, while another opposed.

“Clearly, we needed to get something done,” said state Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Montour, of Senate File 512, which passed the Iowa House of Representatives this week on a 59-41 vote. “There were strong arguments for both of the two versions.”

The House version of the bill has also seen considerable debate, but the Senate version ended up on the governor’s desk. If signed into law, the bill would see $282 million spent on improving water quality in the state over the next 12 years, among other provisions.

“The House had worked on a piece of legislation that I thought had a lot more accountability to it,” said state House Minority Leader Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, who voted against the Senate version earlier this week. “It was a better bill on the funding end than the Senate version.”

He added he voted in favor of the House water quality bill in both the 2017 legislative session and the current session.

The Senate passed SF 512 in the 2017 legislative session. State Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, voted in favor of the bill last year.

“Obviously we thought there was some cohesion last year,” he said of the 2017 vote. “That was the bill the House had passed a year prior.”

Even now, with the legislation approved in both chambers, Edler said the issue of water quality is not going away.

“I think this is the first step,” he said. “This discussion of water quality will continue.”

Fisher also said the bill will help improve the state’s water quality situation.

“I think it’s financially responsible, I think the bill helps make progress,” he said.

Smith said the bill may take funding off the table for other areas.

“I don’t like to see monies taken away from our schools for water quality,” he said. “I think water quality is a very critical issue, but so is education.”

Along with designating $282 million to water quality improvement over the next 12 years, the bill also creates a water quality infrastructure fund under the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Edler said it also looks to expand conservation practices used by some farmers.

In a statement Wednesday, Reynolds said she intends to sign the bill.

Other issues

With a water quality bill set to be passed into law, area legislators are looking at other issues.

“I think the discussion on mental health is going to continue,” Edler said, adding tax reform is another topic of discussion.

He also said setting the state supplemental aid to school districts is a priority.

Fisher said he is working on many pieces of legislation, and specifically mentioned a “Bible literacy bill.”

He said the bill would call for the Iowa Department of Education to prepare an elective course for Bible study in public schools. Students would not be required to take the course.

Despite some pushback on the idea of such legislation, Fisher said he thinks studying the Bible can help students.

“Most of those people really misunderstood the bill,” he said of the legislation’s critics, adding the point of the legislation is to get students “studying the Bible as literature, studying its impact on American history and American culture.”

Smith said a de-appropriation may be coming soon.

“We’re still anticipating a de-appropriation because of the budget mess,” he said, adding he expects the issue to come up next week.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com