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House talks broadband, ethanol

This week was the second funnel week for the legislature. The second funnel is a self-imposed deadline by which policy bills from the Senate must be out of committee in the House and likewise House bills must be out of committee in the Senate to continue being considered. The exceptions to this rule are bills which have a tax implication or are an appropriations bill. The purpose of the first and second funnel deadlines is to narrow down what the chambers will deliberate over and allow our focus to move to budgets and tax reduction policies.

This week the House unanimously passed House File 848 making changes to Iowa’s broadband grant program. When the governor introduced her bill, it made changes to the broadband grant program and focused on increasing broadband speeds.

The product of the resulting conversations and negotiations resulted in a bill that focused on speed of deployment and internet speeds. Grant funds will be eligible at varying levels of matching percentages based on the internet speed available to Iowans using that service. Broadband infrastructure projects must deploy fiber to targeted service areas to receive grant funds, with funds distributed based on the current level of service by tier. Tier 1 areas are those that have speeds of 25 megabits download, three megabits upload or less and are eligible for up to a 75 percent match. Tier 2 areas are those with speeds above 25/3, they will be eligible for up to a 50 percent matching grant. Tier 3 areas are those that have speeds of 50 megabits download or more, they will be eligible for up to a 35 percent matching grant.

Other changes include new scoring criteria to encourage projects in Tier 1 areas, allocating 20 percent of grant funds for hard to serve areas within Tier 1, and having a designated employee to help with grant applications for state, federal and private funds.

House File 848 sets the framework for aggressively building Iowa’s broadband infrastructure to ensure all Iowans have access. However, this policy bill will have limited effect without a significant financial investment in the grant program.

The Iowa House Ways and Means committee passed House Study Bill 185, a bill to increase access to, and usage of, biofuels in Iowa. One of the primary features of the bill is to shift incentives from 10 percent ethanol to 15 percent ethanol, which would boost Iowa’s ethanol usage and support the price of corn. The bill also addresses the use of biodiesel derived from soybean oil in a similar fashion. One of the concerns we’ve heard from constituents is they are afraid the bill will restrict the availability of gasoline with zero ethanol in it. The bill ensures stations may still have zero ethanol gas available. Conversations on the bill’s final form are ongoing as we address those concerns.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

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Dean Fisher is the state representative for District 72. Contact him at dean.fisher@legis.iowa.gov

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