February 7, 2014

Week 4
Visitors to the Capitol
Senate votes to boost investment in local schools
Student achievement depends on timely action
Ensuring every eligible voter's ballot counts
Emergency heating funds will help struggling families
Early help prepares kids to succeed in school & life
Upcoming events in Iowa City
News you can use

Time flies when you are busy! The Tuesday snowstorm interrupted visitors to the Capitol this week and made for some interesting travel around Des Moines.

I worked this week on a couple of bills dealing with the authority of physician assistants to help people having a mental health crisis and people who are critically ill and near death.

I also filed SF 2107 with Senator Rob Hogg (Cedar Rapids) to require MidAmerican and Alliant Energy to produce or buy 105 MW of electricity from Iowa-based solar arrays by 2020. In the late 80s, the Legislature required these two utilities to provide their Iowa customers 105 MW of renewable energy. At the time, the companies strongly opposed this requirement. Now with about 5000 MW of wind power in Iowa, it seems like it was a lot of complaining over nothing. These two companies have made a lot of money and done a good job of investing in Iowa’s growing wind energy business. It has resulted in several thousand permanent jobs. It is now time to take advantage of the sun. It grows our corn and beans and can provide abundant electricity. This won’t be easy. Early reports suggest the utilities do not like this bill.

Another priority I have is changing how we help seniors who wish to stay in their homes for as long as they want and are able. The bill, SF 2082, would allow automatic approval for qualifying seniors to receive in-home services rather than waiting to be approved through a waiver process. This meets the needs of seniors to remain at home and saves money by avoiding premature nursing home admissions. It is a top priority of the Older Iowans Legislature and Senate Democrats.

I continued to work on two other issues this week. There is e-cigarette legislation to ban access to minors that needs work. It is a bill brought by the tobacco companies that want to sell these products to everyone. I hope we can pass a bill that prevents access to minors and protects the health of all Iowans from these dangerous, untested devices and products. I continue to work to get bipartisan support for a limited medical cannabis bill to help suffering Iowans. I hope there is progress next week.

Dan McMillan, Director of Communications, University of Iowa College of Public Health
Bill Barker, Marketing and Outreach Coordinator, University of Iowa College of Public Health
Doug Beardsley, Director, Johnson County Department of Public Health
Carol Sweeting, Information Coordinator, Iowa City Water Division
Ed Moreno, Superintendent, Iowa City Water Division
Lynette Seigley, Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Mary Skopec, Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Larry Gullett, Director, Johnson County Conservation Department
Bob Sessions
Mel Schlacter
Dan Ceynar
Josephine Gittler, University of Iowa College of Law
Deborah Waldren, MD, MPH, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
Sorry if I missed you.

Iowa educators tell us that predictable, sustained state investment in education is the most effective way to increase student achievement.

That's why I voted this week for a 6 percent increase in local school funding for the 2015-16 school year (SF 2079 and SF 2077). This money would pay for the basics: up-to-date textbooks, heating bills, teacher salaries and gas for the buses. We also approved additional state dollars to prevent any related property tax increase (SF 2078).

Developing the state budget is the one thing I am required to do in my job as a state senator, and the largest part of that budget goes to education. State law requires us to set school funding 18 months ahead of the academic year so that school boards, administrators and educators can plan for local needs and make the best use of state resources.

A 6 percent increase would be welcome news for our local schools. It would help them bounce back from several lean years while also implementing the education reforms we approved in 2013. Since 2011, school funding in Iowa has suffered. As a result, our state has fallen to 37th in the nation when it comes to per pupil spending. Iowa is more than $1,500 below the national average in terms of how much we invest in each student.

However, we have the money to reverse this trend. Our reserve accounts are full at more than $650 million, and we have a surplus of $842 million. The major U.S. financial rating agencies all give Iowa the highest rating of AAA. Only seven other states match us with an across-the-board AAA rating.

Now is the time to invest wisely in student achievement. If the House and Governor also approve the legislation we passed in the Senate, here's how much our local school districts will get for the 2015-16 school year:

School District
FY 2016 Basic School Budget (Estimate)

Change compared to FY 2015 (Estimate)

Iowa City
Lone Tree

With this week's vote on school funding, the Senate obeyed state law requiring the Legislature to set education funding 18 months in advance of the school year. I hope the House and Governor will follow our lead. We must put politics aside, follow the law and support the students who are the future of a strong state economy.

The Legislature is expected to set school funding within 30 days after the Governor presents his state budget. For the 2014 session, the deadline is February 13.

Iowa superintendents overwhelmingly believe state lawmakers should meet that deadline and set funding for the 2015-16 school year, as the law requires. In a recent survey, 98 percent of the 214 superintendents who responded oppose the House and Governor’s plan to wait until next year to decide on funding.

In recent years, the House and Governor have defied the advance budgeting law, allowing K-12 education funding to become entangled with other issues and even held hostage for reasons unrelated to students or schools. The message we're hearing from superintendents this year is clear: Don’t delay school funding again! Nearly every superintendent (99 percent) we surveyed said education dollars would be used more effectively if lawmakers followed the law and set school funding well in advance.

We’ve made some big changes with recent education reforms. Now we must provide financial stability so schools can successfully enact those changes and make sure all Iowa kids graduate with the skills to land a good job. Asked how they would use our proposed 6 percent increase in basic school funding, school superintendents said strengthening reading and writing skills in elementary students, implementing Iowa’s common core curriculum and reducing class sizes are their top priorities.

For more on our survey of Iowa school superintendents and what they had to say about school funding, go to http://bit.ly/1irPiuQ.

I serve on the committee looking into the abrupt decisions surrounding the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home and the troubled children who received care there. I’m disappointed in what’s gone on and in what I’ve learned about how Governor Branstad and the Department of Human Services managed the facility. Now that a judge has overturned Governor Branstad’s decision to close the Home, I’ll be working to reform and restructure the state’s efforts to more effectively and compassionately help young people, their families and their communities. Pictured with me is Senate President Pam Jochum.

Iowans expect our elections to be secure, accurate and efficient. Our democracy is based on citizens making their voices heard.

That's why it came as a big disappointment when the Cerro Gordo County Auditor brought to our attention that the 2012 general election ballots of three voters in his county had had been wrongly thrown out because of inaccurate information provided by Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. The auditor told us that these individuals had had their voting rights restored and that their votes should have counted.

If three voters in one county could be disenfranchised, how many individuals could this happen to statewide? It is the Legislature’s responsibility to make sure that Secretary of State Matt Schultz, as the state commissioner of elections, does a better job of ensuring that the ballots of all eligible voters are counted.

Iowans are proud of their high levels of voter participation, so it is of upmost importance that we take measures to protect the integrity of our system. In recent years, Iowa has made many improvements to our voting process, including allowing voters to register on Election Day at the polls. As a result, Iowa ranked fifth in voter turnout in the 2012 General Election with 73.3 percent of registered voters casting their ballot.

The Senate Appropriations Committee this week approved additional help for low-income Iowans struggling to pay their home heating bills during this exceptionally cold winter.

SSB 3137 would provide $2 million to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps offset heating costs for low-income families. The additional money will help address emergencies, including fixing broken furnaces and carrying out emergency fuel deliveries for families in need.

Last year, LIHEAP assisted more than 85,000 Iowa households. As of December, more than 60,000 households had already received assistance through LIHEAP this fiscal year. About 10 percent of LIHEAP recipients depend on propane to heat their homes, with 150 gallons of propane lasting about two weeks in January.

The supplemental assistance approved in the state senate is due to the spike in propane fuel costs. Throughout Iowa, propane is three to four times the usual price, reaching more than $6 per gallon in parts of Iowa. Usually, propane is about $1.79 a gallon.

The federal government is also responding to the need. The U.S. Department of Human & Health Services released a second LIHEAP appropriation of close to $7.5 million to help Iowa families heat their homes during this cold weather.

Iowans with questions or concerns should check out the state's new Propane Shortage and Heating Assistance Webpage. It has detailed information about LIHEAP, energy and cost-saving tips, safe heating alternatives and other resources.

Iowa Adjutant General Tim Orr gave his Condition of the Guard speech to a joint session of theLegislature on Feb. 5. Maj. Gen. Orr reported that, after many overseas deployments in the last 12 years, there are no Iowa soldiers or airmen in Iraq and Afghanistan today. Iowans can be proud of our men and women in uniform. Even in times of overseas deployment, the Iowa National Guard does not lose sight of its mission: homeland defense and support. The Guard (9,200 members strong) has responded to numerous disasters both in Iowa and across the country.

During the first five years of life, children begin to gain the emotional and social skills that enable them to thrive in school and in life. These skills form the foundation for “healthy mental development,” the ability of children to regulate and express emotions, form relationships with others, and explore and learn in their surroundings.

Without a solid foundation of healthy mental development early in life, children are at higher risk for poor school performance, juvenile delinquency and adult mental health concerns later in life.

Iowa’s 1st Five Healthy Mental Development Initiative is a public-private partnership that brings together physicians and public service providers to promote healthy mental development among Iowa’s children from birth to age five. The initiative encourages pediatricians and primary care providers to use proven tools to gauge a child's progress during well-child visits. At-risk kids can then get the help they need, when local children’s health agencies and early intervention services assist the family in optimizing their children’s mental development.

The Health & Human Services Budget Committee learned this week about last year’s efforts to expand this program from 33 to 49 counties. With continued support of the 1st Five Initiative, we can ensure that all Iowa children begin life with a good chance to achieve school readiness, academic success and overall well-being.

Between 2007 and 2012, health care providers referred close to 5,000 families to 1st Five. In that time, the program helped an estimated 77,000 children. Getting more health providers involved is key. About 93 percent of health providers include comprehensive developmental assessments in their well-child appointments after becoming involved in 1st Five.

Learn more about how 1st Five is helping Iowa kids and families at www.idph.state.ia.us/1stfive.


Prairie Preview “Small is Beautiful”
Mark your calendars! The Johnson County Heritage Trust is hosting the 31st Prairie Preview “Small is Beautiful: The Value of Small Conservation Properties” on Thursday, March 13th. Bring friends and family to this free educational event to learn more about small conservation properties from Lon Drake and Judy Joyce. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for registration and exhibits, with Lon and Judy presenting at 7:30 p.m. Prairie Preview will be held at Parkview Evangelical Free Church, 15 Foster Road in Iowa City. For more information, contact Tammy Richards at (319) 338-7030 or email info@jcht.org.

Iowa City Fed Chili Dinner
The Iowa City Fed Chili Dinner will take place on Thursday, February 20. The event starts at 6 p.m. at 940 S. Gilbert Court in the Iowa City Fed Office. Members of the community and friends of labor are encouraged to attend. People are encouraged to bring a dish or side dish to share. For more information, please call Joe Marron at 319-400-6391.

Youth Off-Road Riders Spring Benefit and Hand-Built Bike Show
The Youth Off-Road Riders Spring Benefit and Hand-Built Bike Show will be taking place March 7th. Support young people and bicycling at the Spring Benefit and Hand-Built Bike Show to benefit Youth Off-Road Riders, a cycling program through the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County. Join us for a silent auction of local goods and services from the Iowa City area and hand-built bike exhibition from Professor Steve McGuire's class at the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History. The event takes place at the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area, 4213 SE Sand Road in Iowa City from 6-9 p.m. Refreshments will be provided. For more information, please check out the Facebook event page at www.facebook.com/events/469743916464353.


Protect land with REAP grants
More than $200,000 in cost-share grants is available to help conservation organizations acquire land for additional outdoor recreation opportunities and to protect critical habitat. Recent projects include additions to Pine Lake State Park, Pictured Rocks Wildlife Management Area and the Loess Hills Wildlife Area.

Through the cost-share arrangement, 75 percent of the acquisition costs come from Resource Enhancement and Protection, and the remaining 25 percent comes from private contributions. The Department of Natural Resources owns and manages the property that is jointly purchased on behalf of the public.

For an application and complete details, go to www.iowareap.com and click on "REAP Grants" in the left column. Applications are due March 14.

How much should students borrow for college?
Iowa Student Loan wants to help students avoid excessive debt by educating them about the risks of over-borrowing and how to reduce the need to borrow. At the Iowa Student Loan website, students can learn about their return on college investment.

The ROCI (Return on College Investment) Reality Check is an online tutorial that allows students to compare various types of jobs, their associated starting salaries and the future demand and probability they’ll get the job. It helps students set realistic expectations for how much they might earn after college and how much they should borrow for college. Access the free tool at www.studentloan.org/ROCIRealityCheck.

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.