A public discussion
Local lawmakers talk legislative funnel deadline, bills moving through chambers
The 2018 state legislative session is in full swing, and some bills died while others will continue on as the first legislative funnel came and went earlier this week.
The funnel, as well as several current legislative issues, were discussed the Marshalltown Area Chamber of Commerce’s legislative forum Friday afternoon in the Fisher Community Center auditorium.
“Bills that were introduced in the [state] House (of Representatives) or introduced in the [state] Senate and didn’t make it out of committee are dead,” said state House Minority Leader Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, of this week’s funnel. “It doesn’t apply to appropriation bills, it doesn’t apply to ways and means bills, and it also doesn’t rule out the possibility that there could be amendments to bills later on that could bring things back to life.”
He added that a de-appropriations bill, outlining cuts to state programs, may come before each chamber as soon as next week. However, Smith said he believes there is still disagreement between House and Senate leaders on cuts.
“This year, the No. 1 bill, for myself … is addressing the complex needs of mental health patients,” said state Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center. “That’s really the area that you’re hearing about, is those really complex-needs individuals who have a hard time getting placements.”
He said he’s worked with officials in law enforcement and hospitals, along with other stakeholders, in getting recommendations to improve the state’s mental health care system.
“I have [taken] on trying to get those recommendations into a bill to become law, and I’m happy to say that that passed through the Senate HR (Human Resources) Committee just two days ago,” Edler said. “It appears that there’s pretty good support for it.”
State Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Montour, said he is glad to see a bill put forward by the Iowa Farm Bureau that would allow the company to have its own health benefit plan.
“The idea behind this is to get around the disaster that is the Affordable Care Act and give the Farm Bureau the opportunity to offer some health care plan,” he said. “That passed through commerce this week on the House side, I don’t know where it is in the Senate.”
Fisher added that Gov. Kim Reynolds’ tax reform plan was released earlier this week. State legislative Republicans have made tax reform a major goal for this legislative session.
“I am all for trying to get the system to where it’s fair for everyone,” Edler said of such a reform. “The credits that are out there, it’s a very complex system.”
He said some tax credits are given on a contractual basis and must be phased out over time in a tax reform plan.
Smith said he will consider three factors when reviewing the governor’s tax reform plan.
“First and foremost, we have to balance the budget; second is, whatever we do has to be fair,” he said. “The third thing is that the relief is needed for the middle class.”
State economic growth is the end goal for tax reform, Fisher said.
“Bottom line is, we need to grow this state, and by lowering our tax rates is one of the more important ways to do that,” he said.
Legislation for school vouchers was also discussed. A bill for such an education savings account program died in the House last week; however, a school vouchers bill is still alive in a Senate committee.
“There is always a possibility, and I would have to check to see where that ended up on the committee,” Edler said of the possibility of the bill advancing through the Senate. “I think it really becomes aligning the appropriate educational method to each child’s needs; however that ends up, that’s for parents, that’s for educators and also the kids to be involved.”
Fisher said he agrees with an educational savings account program, but said it would be better to fund it with “new money” coming in to the state’s budget than with existing funds.
“People who send their kids to a private school pay taxes just like everybody else, so I support choice,” he said. “In order to do this, we’re probably going to have to rely on new money, that would bring more students under the umbrella of the tax revenues … at some point, when we have more money in the system and we can phase it in.”
Smith said he opposed the House version and opposes the Senate version of the school vouchers legislation.
“Every child in my district … ends up in public school unless they’re home-schooled; we don’t have private schools that cover all grades here in my district,” he said. “Funding for education has been anemic, and we need to be funding public education at higher levels first.”
In another discussion on education, Fisher said it’s likely the SAVE sales tax will see an extension this year.
“We have a bit more work to do on extending the SAVE fund, the 1-cent sales tax that’s for school infrastructure, but I’m confident that we’re going to move on that and extend it beyond the 2029 date,” he said.
Another topic of discussion was funding for 911 salaries and benefits. Marshall County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman and Thompson True Value owner Dave Thompson said he supports a user-based system of paying for 911 services.
“What is being levied against the property taxes are the fees that will pay for the salaries and benefit package of the respective  employees,” he said, adding equipment costs are paid from state phone surcharge money. “It would be much fairer if we could come up with a mechanism from the state that all of those fees would be paid as a user fee.”
Thompson said businesses like his pay a “disproportionate” share of the estimated $992,412 in 911 salaries and benefits costs due to the higher property taxes they pay.
“If we could get this to a mechanism where it could possibly be a fee-driven thing that would be applied to our phone bills or our cell phone bills, that would be the truest, most fair way to pay for this system that we all enjoy,” he said.
The next chamber legislative forum is set for noon on Friday, March 9 at the Fisher Community Center auditorium, 709 S. Center St.
Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org