January 31, 2014

Week Three
Investing in Student Achievement
Removing Barriers to Career Success
Treatment Courts are good for Iowa Families
Reducing Distracted Driving
Arts Enrich Student’s Education

It was a very busy week of receptions, meetings and email! It is hard to explain the pace of activity at the Capitol. Everyone wants to talk right now.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin visited our caucus this week to say thank you for all the support he has received from members over the years. He got a very warm welcome and received much thanks for all his excellent work. Senator Harkin has been a giant leader for progressive policy his entire career, and he plans to have another busy year!

I have been in committee meetings this week being updated on the roll out of the Iowa Health & Wellness Plan and the Marketplace Choice health insurance program in Iowa. We have had presentations by Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart, Iowa Medicaid Director Jennifer Vermeer and David Lyons with CoOpportunity Health Insurance. The initial problems people had signing up are largely over. People are now getting the help they need to sign up and finding n- cost and affordable health insurance options. The enrollment deadline for people to buy insurance on the Insurance Exchange is March 31. If you or someone you know needs help getting insurance, there is information below on who to contact. Don’t delay!

February 21 is the next deadline for a bill to be approved by a committee to remain alive for the session. That means that subcommittee meetings are in full swing this week and next. People who want their bills to advance are hard at work. Track legislation at www.legis.iowa.gov.

Senator Tom Harkin visited the Iowa Statehouse this week. Senator Harkin is leading the national effort to raise the minimum wage. If he is successful, millions of Americans, as well as 300,000 Iowans, would receive a pay increase. In addition, we'd see more job creation through an increase in consumer demand. Over the last 35 years, CEO pay rose 875 percent, counting inflation. An average worker’s pay increased by just 5 percent.

Christine Scheetz, President and CEO for United Way of Johnson & Washington counties
Alex Stanton, Administrative & Advocacy Coordinator United Way of Johnson & Washington counties
Laurie Haman, VP Iowa City-Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau
Anissa Wolfe, Director of Sales Iowa City-Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau
Barry Bulter, Provost, University of Iowa
Dan Reed, VP Research and Economic Development, University of Iowa
Chet Rzonca, Associate Provost and Dean of Continuing Education, University of Iowa
Stacey Cyphert, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
John Grier, Chief, Iowa City Fire Department
Bill Deatsch, Lieutenant, Johnson County Sheriff’s Department
Steve Spenler, Director, Johnson County Ambulance
Bob Libby, Field Supervisor, Johnson County Ambulance
Mary O’Brien, Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner, UIHC
Jeff Canfield, Store Manager, HyVee First Avenue
Tom Wall, Iowa Soybean Association
Nancy Porter
Bob Welsh
Sorry if I missed you.

Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars
6:30 - 8:20 pm Wednesday, February 5th
Room 1505, UI Seamans Center, 103 S. Capitol St, Iowa City

Unmanned is a Robert Greenwald movie from Brave New Films examining our increasing use of weaponized drones. It includes coverage of U.S. armed drone use in Pakistan and other countries, and features interviews with U.S. officials, international legal experts and family members of civilian victims.

For further information, contact Ed Flaherty at flahertyem@q.com or 319-621-6766.

If you need to health care or know someone who does, below are some websites and phone numbers that can help.

• Federal website: www.healthcare.gov

• Iowa Department of Human Services: http://dhsservices.iowa.gov or 1-855-889-7985

• Johnson County DHS Office contact information: www.dhs.state.ia.us/Consumers/Find_Help/County_Offices/johnson.html

This week I attended the Travel Federation of Iowa Tourism Legislative Showcase where I met with Laurie Haman and everybody’s favorite mascot, Herky the Hawkeye. Laurie is vice-president of the Iowa City-Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. We discussed how to get more people to visit Iowa and Johnson County.

Boosting student achievement is central to achieving our goal of building a high-skill, high-wage economy and strengthening Iowa's middle class.

However, it'll be hard to reach that goal if the amount our state spends per student continues to fall compared to other states. Iowa now spends $1,500 LESS per student than the national average. In just 12 months, we fell from 31st to 37th in the country when it comes to how much our state spends on each student.

Parents, teachers and school administrators want to provide a high-quality education, but local school budgets increasingly force them to offer the bare minimum. That doesn't make sense when the state's rainy day and reserve funds are full.

Senate Democrats want to do right by Iowa students. That's why we've proposed a 6 percent increase in basic school funding. It would provide an additional $196 million to buy textbooks, heat classrooms, pay salaries and purchase other day-to-day necessities that keep the school doors open. Best of all, our plan would not increase local property taxes, thanks to a special $26.2 million state appropriation.

This is something we need to vote on soon. In 1995, Governor Branstad signed a law that basic school funding must be set 18 months ahead of time. State law requires that we decide on basic funding for the 2015-16 school year within the next couple of weeks. I'm pushing to meet the February 13 deadline and give local schools the confidence they need to set their budgets. Unfortunately, some legislators and the Governor have said they don't intend to take any action this year.

When the state is an unreliable partner to local schools, student achievement suffers. If we want to keep good teachers and small class sizes, we must pay for them, or Iowa risks falling farther behind other states. That is not the way to strengthen Iowa's middle class.

To read our school funding bills, see SSB 3105, SSB 3106 and SSB 3107 on the Iowa Legislature's website.

Iowa ranks among the top states in which both parents work. As we look at ways to strengthen Iowa's middle class, it makes sense that families have access to safe, affordable childcare that allows them to work, train and advance with peace of mind.

We're fortunate to live in a state with a relatively strong economy and low cost of living. However, more families are struggling to make ends meet as poverty grows in Iowa. Today, one in four Iowa families does not earn enough cover their basic needs.

According to a recent report from the Iowa Policy Project, a single parent raising two children in Iowa needs to make between $45,000 and $48,000 just to afford basic needs. That works out to an hourly wage of about $23 to $24 for a full-time employee.

For a person making $9 per hour with a young child, more than 41 percent of their paycheck would go to childcare. The cost of childcare ends up being one of the biggest barriers to self-sufficiency and career advancement.

Fortunately, Iowa's Child Care Assistance Program helps many low-income working parents pursue training or career advancement by providing help paying for childcare. Representatives of the United Way and other organizations talked with legislators about how we can improve the program and help more Iowans help themselves. They say the key is to gradually reduce benefits as income increases to ensure that families have sufficient resources to continue paying for high-quality childcare.

Under the current program, a family is no longer eligible for childcare assistance once the household income reaches a certain threshold. Because childcare is expensive, people do the math and sometimes find themselves having to turn down a raise or higher-paying job because they'll end up losing money when their childcare assistance is abruptly cut off.

A new approach to keeping families together is seeing success in Iowa.

Family Treatment Courts work with community professionals to help Iowans struggling with substance abuse or other problems that put them at risk of losing their parental rights. Legislators heard about the good work of Family Treatment Courts from Kurt Wilke, Chief Judge of Iowa’s Second Judicial District in Fort Dodge.

As of September 2013, 496 families — including 587 parents and 954 children — have participated in Family Treatment Courts. The results are spectacular: 79 percent of children go home to their parents within 12 months, and 94 percent of the kids suffer no further abuse or neglect.

The Family Treatment Courts are comprised of a presiding judge and a team, which includes Department of Human Services staff, attorneys and community partners. Parents can volunteer to participate in the program if one is available in their county. The program includes weekly meetings, intensive supervision of parents, and addressing concerns parents may be coping with, such as mental health issues, domestic abuse, housing, transportation, employment and child visitation.

There are currently federally funded Family Treatment Courts in Linn, Polk, Scott, Wapello, Cherokee/Ida and Woodbury counties. There are also five "emerging" Family Treatment Courts in Webster, Buena Vista, Warren, Johnson and Washington/Keokuk counties, which were started by local officials. More Family Treatment Courts may soon be available as other counties seek to replicate their proven success.

The federal funding to Iowa has totaled $3.5 million over seven years but will end in September of this year. Ensuring that Family Treatment Courts continue and expand in Iowa is a good investment. The six pilot projects have saved taxpayers $4.6 million.

More important, families are staying together, and parents struggling with addiction break the cycle when they learn to raise their children responsibly and become contributing members of society.

Distracted driving is an increasing safety concern on our roads. Drivers divert their attention from the road for any number of activities—adjusting the radio, eating, grooming and interacting with passengers. The most notorious distraction these days is texting while driving.

Iowans admit to doing it, even though they are frightened by it. Nearly 9 in 10 road users say that texting drivers are a very serious threat to their personal safety, according to AAA. That sentiment is understandable. Distracted drivers endanger themselves, their passengers and everyone else on the road.

Pat Hoye, who heads up the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, told legislators that texting is an extremely dangerous form of distraction for drivers because it entails three types of distraction: diverting the driver’s vision, removing hands from the steering wheel and taking the mind off the road. Talking on the phone increases the risk of being involved in a traffic crash by three to four times. Texting while driving increases that chance by 23 times.

While road fatalities have declined, distracted driving crashes are on the rise. Between 2003 and 2012, distracted driving was a factor in 7,357 Iowa crashes that resulted in 3,450 injuries and 26 deaths. Law enforcement professionals believe these numbers understate the problem. Here's why.

In Iowa, 65 percent of road fatalities are caused by lane departures. From 2002 through 2011, 2,723 lives were lost and 9,234 severe injuries were sustained in lane departure crashes in Iowa. What is the primary reason for a lane departure? Driver distraction.

Distracted driving has become the top priority for Iowa's public safety professionals. The Joint Public Safety Board, made up of firefighters, police and sheriffs, say they want the Legislature to crack down on distracted driving this session. What do you think?

Opera great and Centerville native Simon Estes was one of more than 60 Iowa arts leaders who came to the Statehouse to advocate for incorporating more fine arts into Iowa education. According to the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education, the arts foster the creative workers, thinkers and leaders needed for strong economic growth.

More than 60 fine arts teachers and organizations came to the State Capitol to advocate for the arts in education and incorporating fine arts in the Iowa Core Curriculum.

Opera great and Centerville native Simon Estes is an advocate for this approach. Now a professor at Iowa State University and Wartburg College, Estes has performed at the world's major opera houses for presidents, popes and other world leaders. He was part of the first generation of black opera singers to achieve widespread success and was instrumental in breaking down racial barriers in opera. Estes explained to legislators that the arts are a core educational experience for all students.

“Iowa is the best state, in my opinion," Estes said. "We need to start here to provide access to the arts, music and painting to Iowa students to help them develop their God-given talent."

According to the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education, the arts add value to the teaching of all other subjects, enriching personal experience, supporting a creative economy and developing cultural awareness. That makes the arts important in the training of our workforce, which requires creative thinkers and leaders. Quality arts education develops entrepreneurial skills and problem solving. It also engages diverse learners, including those who may be considered high risk.

“We have been concentrating on STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—for our future success as individuals and economies," said UNI President Bill Rudd. "We should also talk about STEAM—adding the 'A' for Arts in that conversation.”

We have done much to increase reading and math scores, but education should focus on the whole child. Arts education is a great place to start.

How to Contact Me

Joe Bolkcom
728 2nd Avenue
Iowa City, IA 52245

About The Networker

The Networker provides brief summaries of some of the things that I am working on, the work of the General Assembly, and political perspectives on issues. I also use it to announce meetings and how to find useful information about state government.

Additional information

Senator Joe Bolkcom is an Assistant Majority Leader and chair of the Ways & Means Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations, Commerce, Environment & Energy Independence, Human Resources, and Natural Resources committees.