February 14, 2014

Week five
Visitors to the Capitol
Out of Bounds: using art to create conversations about bullying
Upcoming public forum
Universal preschool will help more Iowa kids succeed
Helping low-income Iowans stay warm this winter
Stopping bullying in Iowa schools
Why is distracted driving dangerous?
Ash trees threatened by spread of destructive pest
Gold star museum honors the work of Iowa's military

One more week until many good ideas and many bad ideas will most likely be dead for the year. This week was filled with meetings! Actually, it seems like I ran from one to another all week.

I spoke on the Senate floor this week about the need to raise Iowa’s minimum wage. There will be committee work next week on this issue. Here is a link to my comments.

I have been assigned by Senator Amanda Ragan to work on legislation to address the problems that have arisen at the Iowa Juvenile Home at Toledo. The Governor unilaterally closed the home in January and a District Court Judge has ordered the Governor to re-open it. I am working with Senators Steve Sodders, Bill Dotzler and Jack Hatch on a plan to create a state-run training school for delinquent girls. The bill addresses all of the issues that Disability Rights Iowa, Iowa court system officials and other advocates have identified. We are working to find a bipartisan solution in the next few weeks and get a state facility open as soon as possible.

I appreciate all the ideas I receive for legislation. I introduced several bills this week and have a couple coming next week. Two bills that came down this week include requiring a background check on all gun purchases and a ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

Our Senate Democratic education leaders announced a plan to cover more Iowa kids in preschool. Here is a link to the story and there are more details below. This is one of our top priorities this session.

Final edits to the medical cannabis legislation occurred this week. The legislation will be introduced next week.

I met with Iowa City Area Realtors this week on their visit to the Capitol. We discussed how to help first time homebuyers save for a home purchase. We met in the gallery overlooking the Senate Chamber.

Barry Butler, Provost, University of Iowa
Kevin Monson, President, Neumann Monson Architects
Matt Kreiger, Project Manager and Architect, Neumann Monson Architects
Robert Carlson, Architect, Neumann Monson Architects
Debra Waldron, Vice Chair for Child Health Policy and Statewide Health Services, University of Iowa College of Medicine
Witold Krajewski, Director, Iowa Flood Center
Larry Weber, Director, Director, IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering
Jesse Case, Business Agent, Teamsters
Jennifer Sherer, Director, University of Iowa Labor Center
Matthew Glasson, Labor Educator, University of Iowa Labor Center
Robin Clark-Bennett, Labor Educator, University of Iowa Labor Center
Brenda Payne, Psychologist, Gersh, Hartson, Payne and Associates P.C.
Joe Marron, Recording Secretary, Iowa City Federation of Labor
Shawn Harmsen, Political Action Chair, Local 896 COGS
Charlie Funk, Top Dog, MidWestOne Bank
Kay Seery, Iowa City Area Association of Realtors
Mark Kamps, Iowa City Area Association of Realtors
Shaner Magalhaes, Iowa City Area Association of Realtors
Joyce Barker
Mike Barker
Eileen Fisher, CAFÉ Iowa
Sorry if I missed you.

You are invited to a behind-the-scenes preview of Out of Bounds, a new play commissioned by the University of Iowa and created by Working Group Theatre, a nationally recognized theatre company based in Iowa City. The event takes place on Wednesday, February 19, 6:30-8 p.m. at the Callaghan Auditorium at the University Iowa College of Public Health.

Out of Bounds tackles issues of bullying in an effort to create opportunities for conversations and to inspire increased empathy. During this special preview event, Working Group company members will present scenes from the new play and facilitate a talkback discussion with experts in the field and community leaders. Light refreshments will be provided.

Panelists include:

•Matt Denger, Principal of South East Junior High School in Iowa City

•Marizen Ramirez, M.P.H., Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, Associate Director for Research, Injury Prevention Research Center

•Briana Woods-Jaeger, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Community and Behavioral Health

•Shawn Zierke, parent involved in the development of the show

Out of Bounds is sponsored by Hancher and the University of Iowa College of Public Health. It is made possible in part by support from the Iowa Arts Council.

Please join me on Saturday, February 22, at 9:30 a.m. for the Johnson County League of Women Voters Forum at the North Liberty City Council Chamber.

Research has shown that all kids can benefit from a good preschool education.

Since 2007, Iowa’s Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program has worked to make preschool available to all students from all backgrounds. School districts collaborate with a variety of state, federal and community partners, including Head Start and Shared Visions, as well as faith-based, private and non-profit preschools.

Prior to the program—when Iowa targeted preschool to certain families or to children with disabilities—only 19 percent of three- and four-year-old kids in Iowa received a high-quality preschool education. By the fall of 2012, almost 21,500 Iowa preschoolers (55 percent) in 314 school districts were getting the benefits of the statewide preschool initiative, which provides at least 10 hours per week of age-appropriate instruction. Cost to the state is approximately $60 million.

Two recent reports show positive results for students who attend the state preschool classes. For example, fewer students from low-income families who attend the state preschool require intensive intervention after they enter kindergarten. The children were less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, need special education or get into trouble with the law than those who didn't get a good preschool education.

The most obvious problem with Iowa’s Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program is that not everybody attends. That's why the Senate Education Committee is working on legislation to ensure universal access to preschool for all four-year-olds in Iowa (Senate Study Bill 3155). The legislation covers the costs of ensuring universal access to preschool across the state.

As we work on this legislation at the Statehouse in the coming weeks, I want to know what local parents and educators think. Please send me your thoughts and suggestions.

To see more about the success of Iowa's preschool effort, check out the May 2013 fact sheet from the Iowa Department of Education. In addition, the website for the Child & Family Policy Center has their findings on the effectiveness of Iowa's statewide preschool program.

This winter has been an extremely cold one for Iowa. While many of us can go home and turn up the heat, some Iowans don't have that luxury. Heating bills for past months are now showing up in mailboxes, often for shockingly high amounts given the record low temperatures.

To help ensure all Iowans are warm and safe, the Senate has approved $2 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP (SF 2110). This money is for the current fiscal year and will become available as soon as the bill is passed by the House and signed by the Governor.

This money will help 85,000 low-income families—our neighbors, friends, seniors on fixed incomes—with their home heating and related emergency needs. This special appropriation is necessary because of a spike in the cost of propane fuel, an increase in other energy costs and a lot of emergency needs.

About 9,000 Iowa households that rely on LIHEAP use propane fuel. Propane prices have taken a roller-coaster ride because of frigid temperatures, high demand, transportation issues and increased propane exports.

In December, Iowa’s Community Action Agencies made 43 emergency propane deliveries that cost about $35,000. In January, the numbers skyrocketed, with 531 emergency deliveries costing about $237,000. More households are applying for help every day.

Iowa families aren't just affected by propane problems. This year's deep freeze has resulted in broken furnaces and higher energy bills of all kinds, which are wreaking havoc on family finances and causing safety concerns. The rate-regulated utilities report that as of December 2013, past due accounts for Iowa equaled almost $35 million. This is a 21 percent increase over the previous year.

Real numbers show a big need right now. With SF 2110, we can answer the call to help our fellow Iowans. The bill is now being considered by the Iowa House.

Bullying can devastate children, families and communities, with effects on kids sometimes lasting into adulthood. It's a serious problem that warrants a thoughtful, informed, appropriate response from policymakers and other adults.

In 2007, the Legislature voted to require all school districts to have anti-harassment/anti-bullying policies, to make complaint forms available to the targets of bullying or harassment, to put investigative procedures into place, and to collect and report data regarding bullying and harassment. Seven years later, this policy has not been fully implemented in some schools, and across the state, inadequate resources have been invested in prevention and training.

In the last couple of years, reports have pointed out that the numbers of reported cases of bullying in Iowa are not consistent with the rest of the country. Iowa school districts, on average, reported fewer than 2 percent of their students have been bullied in any given year since the state passed its anti-bullying law in 2007. National averages are around 30 percent. To tackle that inconsistency, the Iowa Department of Education implemented a new anti-bullying policy in select schools during the 2011-12 school year, which it hopes to take statewide.

We must do more to eliminate bullying in schools, including enforcing anti-bullying policies, teacher training and parent involvement in reducing bullying behaviors. Simple solutions can go a long way to ensuring students feel safe and supported.

Senate Study Bill 3149 is an effort to improve the environment for students at all Iowa schools. I look forward to working with the Governor and my colleagues in the House on the best ways to address bullying in schools and to provide assistance to school officials to effectively handle the problem.

If you know a child or family that is struggling with bullying, please encourage them to work with the school administration to help eliminate the problem of bullying. It's a team effort!

Distracted driving is a public health and safety issue. That’s what legislators heard this week from Professor Shaun Vecera, a psychologist at the University of Iowa who does research on distraction.

He said that 85 percent of drivers report using a cell phone while behind the wheel. Why is this a problem? Because cellphone use delays a driver’s responses even more than legal intoxication.

Take these statistics:

• Cellphone use by a driver makes the chance of an accident four times greater

• 21 percent of fatal crashes with teen drivers involve cellphone distraction

• 3,328 people were killed on U.S. roads in distracted driving crashes in 2012

The world provides more information than we can handle at any given instant, Professor Vecera says. For that reason, we must be selective and focus on what’s relevant. When we're behind the wheel, we need to give our attention to driving for the safety of all road users.

Driving is a complex activity that requires three types of attention: visual - eyes on the road; manual - hands on the steering wheel; and cognitive - mind focused on driving.

Professor Vecera compared attention to a mental spotlight. Objects outside the spotlight do not reach awareness. If we use a cellphone while driving, our mental spotlight is not on driving. What's happening on the road simply goes unnoticed, impairing our ability to control our vehicle and respond to driving conditions.

Here's the bottom line: Eliminating distractions is key to making us all better drivers and making our roads safer.

To learn more about the impact of distraction on driving, go to www.distraction.gov. You can also check out the National Safety Council's "Safety on the Road" section at www.nsc.org.

Iowa’s ash trees are under siege. An invasive tree pest known as the Emerald Ash Borer is making its way across the state and is considered to be one of the most destructive tree pests ever seen in North America.

Six counties in Iowa have officially confirmed the present of the Emerald Ash Borer. Allamakee was the first confirmed county in May 2010, when the Emerald Ash Borer was found on an island along the Mississippi river near New Albin. Most recently, this pest was located in Waterloo in Black Hawk County. Other counties with a confirmed infestation include Des Moines, Jefferson, Cedar and Union.

With the discovery of the Emerald Ash Borer in Waterloo, the Iowa Department of Agriculture has issued a statewide quarantine restricting the movement of hardwood firewood, ash logs, wood chips and ash tree nursery stock out of Iowa into non-quarantined areas of other states. More information on the quarantine is available at www.iowatreepests.com/eab_news.html.

Once the Emerald Ash Borer is established in a community, it is only a matter of time until all ash trees come under attack. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State Extension are working with communities to develop plans for managing ash trees and providing information to Iowans in preparation for the arrival of this pest. You can learn more about the Emerald Ash Borer and what it means for your community at www.iowatreepests.com/eab_home.html

If you suspect the Emerald Ash Borer in your area, contact State Entomologist Robin Pruisner at 515-725-1470 or Robin.Pruisner@Iowaagriculture.gov.

This week I met an Iowan helping to collect photographs of all the soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. Thomas Brickman and his daughter, Shari Kirkpatrick, both of Reinbeck, took on the task of finding the missing photos for 522 of the 853 Iowans killed in the war. Now they are searching for the final 23. The photos will be part of both a national memorial and an exhibit at the Grout Museum District in Waterloo. A short interview with Mr. Brickman can be found at http://youtu.be/yvopQHJsWWs . The photos he and his daughter collected can be found on Facebook at “Faces To Go With Names: Iowa's Fallen Vietnam Soldiers.

Iowa's Gold Star Military Museum and Education Center is the only federally recognized repository for military artifacts in the state. Legislators recently toured the Camp Dodge facility to learn about the latest improvements.

The permanent exhibits tell the stories of Iowans who have served in defense of their state and nation, from early settlement in the 1840s through military efforts sparked by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. A Camp Dodge icon, the M4 “Sherman” tank, was recently refurbished, and in January, soldiers from the Iowa National Guard’s Field Maintenance Camp Dodge shop relocated it to its new home, outside the front entrance of the museum.

Since the Museum’s opening in 1985, staff and volunteers have provided tours and educational activities to visitors of all ages. The museum hosts veterans' group meetings, commemorative events and special programs, and participates in activities sponsored by the Iowa National Guard. The staff also works with the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs to coordinate veterans support and honor activities.

The museum is located at 7105 NW 70th Avenue in Johnston and admission is free. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Photo identification is required for all adults entering Camp Dodge. To learn more, visit www.iowanationalguard.com and click on “Museum” or call 515-252-4582.

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.