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home : news : news Friday, April 29, 2016

3/12/2014 Email this articlePrint this article 
Next legislative forum
When: Saturday, April 12.

Time: 11 a.m.

Where: DeWitt Community Center, 512 10th St., DeWitt.

Sponsors: DeWitt Chamber & Development Co. and Clinton County Farm Bureau.

Lawmakers: Progress being made on $6.9 billion state budget

by Linda Watson
news editor

The state budget process took top billing among recent activities by the Iowa Legislature, area lawmakers noted at Saturday's legislative coffee in DeWitt.

Rep. Steve Olson, (R-DeWitt) said the budget targets released by the House and Senate last week are the first time he's seen an agreement this early in the session in his tenure.

The $6.9 billion general fund budget spends 99 percent of the allowable revenues, he told about 20 Clinton County residents at the forum at city hall. The plan calls for a 9.8 percent increase in education spending, 7.1 percent increase in economic development, 6.1 percent increase in health and human services, 5.5 percent in ag and natural resources and 1.75 in public safety/justice, he said.

"We are one month ahead of where we were last year at this time," Sen. Rita Hart (D-Wheatland) said of the budget talks. Rep. Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton) thanked the audience and her constituents for the prayers, cards and condolences to her family in the wake of her sisters' deaths in a Pittsburgh homicide, which caused her to miss last month's legislative coffee. Hart praised Wolfe for "not missing a beat" in her statehouse responsibilities despite the family tragedy.

The three lawmakers look forward to a busy time this week as the second funnel deadline looms for legislators to pass bills out of committee for further consideration this session.

Topics raised by the audience ranged from the gas tax and ATVs on county roads to telemedicine and education issues.

DeWitt resident Lou Behrend expressed concern about the condition of state roadways and the fate of the proposed gasoline tax.

Olson said the 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax is not dead but "might be on life support."

He said a hybrid plan is being floated that would back off the gas tax a few cents and add a wholesaler tax that would raise $10 million more than just a straight gas tax.

Olson noted that if a gas tax doesn't pass, the state will have to do the repair work by bonding, with the cost going to taxpayers instead of fuel users.

Hart said she is waiting to see what final proposal comes out for lawmakers to consider. The lawmakers noted that the estimated annual gas tax increase would be $50 for a typical user, which is less than a vehicle owner would pay in repairs for hitting a pothole.

Mary Malcolm of DeWitt spoke out against legislation that would allow ATVs on county roads, if a county agrees. The measure passed the House and has yet to come up to the Senate. Malcolm said special areas should be set up for ATV recreation since the vehicles are not designed for use on paved roads. Wolfe said she voted for the measure, even though her Democratic colleagues didn't, after talking to rural residents who want to drive them on roads and understand the risks involved.

The measure sets a 35 mph speed limit and requires on-road users to have a valid driver's license and lights and turn signals on the vehicle. Wolfe said she's not sure the Senate will pass it. Hart suggested the need for more off-road locations for ATV recreation.

Malcolm also asked lawmakers to not allow the abortion telemedicine issue to spill over into other areas where telemedicine is used. "Telemedicine is the future because we don't have the specialists" in rural Iowa, she said. Olson said he has seen telemedicine used to good effect at Mercy Medical Center in Clinton, where specialists are consulted remotely via computer and video technology to treat local patients and provide expertise to local doctors.

"It's about providing the right service for the person who needs medical care," Hart said. "It makes sense to use technology. It's a huge thing for our local people to be able to access medical care through technology. Telemedicine is an exciting arena."

On the proposal to allow permits for suppressors, or silencers, on guns, Wolfe said she supported the measure after reviewing data that silencers are seldom used in criminal acts. Prospective users, generally those using the devices for target shooting or hunting, must fill out a lengthy application form and pay a $250 fee under the proposal. The bill has not made it to the Senate.

On education issues, Central Community Schools superintendent Dan Peterson thanked the lawmakers for action on the school calendar "cleanup bill." The measure, signed Friday by Gov. Terry Branstad, changes language in last session's education reform bill that allows districts to set a school year calendar of either 180 six-hour (minimum) days or 1,080 hours of instruction for the year. The amended measure allows districts to count a day with less than six hours because of a late start or early dismissal for "emergency health or safety factors" and also for professional development if at least 30 hours of instruction are recorded over five days.

Allowable growth funding for schools has passed the Senate but not the House. Peterson said school districts need the information on time so they can set their own budgets, programs and staffing levels.

Other issues brought up included the state's response to the Affordable Care Act health insurance programs and tax credits for veterans.

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