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Mental health, property tax focuses as session winds down

In the legislature

We are 14 weeks into the legislative session, leaving us with only two weeks until the scheduled end of session. This deadline prompted discussion on a number of substantive topics this week and many hours debating on the Senate floor.

On Tuesday the Senate passed a bill creating a children’s behavioral health system in Iowa. It was an honor floor managing this bill in the Senate for Gov. Kim Reynolds. This will be another forward moving step to address the mental health and behavioral health issues of Iowans. Mental illness knows no age, income or demographic barriers and it has been a priority to expand access to an array of mental/behavioral health services for those Iowans in need.

The bill passed the Senate on a 46-2 vote.

Senate File 599 passed the Senate this week permitting Iowa farmers to grow hemp. Last year, the Senate passed a bill that would have allowed hemp production on a limited scale under a pilot program as required by federal law. The Farm Bill passed by Congress last year removed hemp as a controlled substance and legalized it as a commodity. Iowa is one of only 11 states without a hemp program. Senate File 599, the Iowa Hemp Act, sets up a program that limits the number of hemp acres a licensee may plant and requires THC testing of the crop prior to harvest.

On Wednesday the Senate passed House File 692, a bill making a number of changes and improvements to how elections are managed in our state. It changed how the Secretary of State’s office manages proposed constitutional amendments approved by the legislature and allows these proposals to be published on a website rather than only in newspapers. This was done in order to prevent any further problems publishing proposed Constitutional amendments after repeated issues with the Secretary of State’s office. The bill also brings checks-and-balances to our county commissioners of elections while expanding their authority over elections and provides cost saving opportunities.

Additionally, this bill works to increase transparency when it comes to election laws in Iowa and addresses uniformity across counties, parties, and nonparty political organizations. The objective with this bill is to continue our goal of fair, safe and secure elections in Iowa. The bill passed 31-18.

Property tax reform

Senate Republicans released a plan this week to control the growth, improve transparency and increase accountability of property tax increases. Under Senate Study Bill 1260, when valuations on property rise, the levy rate for cities and counties automatically adjusts so the property taxpayer pays the same tax as they did the previous year. Local governments can raise revenue up to 2 percent from the previous year and 3 percent with a supermajority of their members, but those officials now must actively vote on that increase at a public hearing instead of passively spending the windfall from increased valuations.

While I support the overall concept of reducing taxes, I was unable to support this bill in committee as written. Upon looking at the data relative to local governments in Senate District 36, SSB 1260 could quite possibly have the reverse effect. When local governments are run well and total taxation as a percentage is under the 2 percent growth factor currently, local officials have indicated they would need to raise rates up to the 2 percent to ensure they had sufficient funds for future years under the proposed cap. This would in essence lead to a tax increase for areas of our Senate district. I believe we have a process in place for Iowans to address most taxation at a local level. It is called the ballot box.

I would support promoting transparency and tax reform, but it can’t lead to a tax increase for the taxpayers if the local officials are already budgeting wisely.

It is an honor to serve you in Senate District 36.