February 28, 2014

Week Seven
Visitors to the Capitol
Expanding middle class with apprenticeships & job training
Tougher Penalties will prevent kidnapping
Moving in the right direction to help troubled kids
Security upgrades to make schools safer
Gas station updates help Iowans maintain independence
What is the future of drones in Iowa?
Boosting student achievement among English learners
Iowa ranks in top 10 for wellbeing
Recent photos
Upcoming events

We spent a good deal of time in floor debate this week. I ran a handful of bills and voted on dozens more. The Senate streams live video of our debate. Bored? Here is a link to the Senate live action. You can also view archived debate action.

This week, the Senate approved perhaps the most important policy bill of the session. SF 2297 would make significant changes to a law that criminalized HIV transmission. The bill would do away with an outdated and draconian approach and replace it with one that protects Iowans from discrimination and improves public health practices. Senators Hogg, McCoy, Sodders and Schneider deserve immense credit for making this a 48-0 vote in the Senate. Here is a link to the Des Moines Register news story.

On a party line vote, the Senate passed a bill to reform how we care for our most troubled delinquent girls. It was disappointing to work for weeks on a bill to depoliticize this issue and bring all the key stakeholders together around a plan to improve our services and support to our girls. Unfortunately, Governor Branstad intervened last week to turn all the Senate Republicans against a bipartisan solution. The Governor has failed to take any responsibility for his leadership failure, which resulted in abusive treatment of girls at the Iowa Juvenile Home. He really has been in office too long. Our child welfare system is a mess, and he is blocking any meaningful attempt to fix it. He is running the state into the ditch in so many areas by ignoring problems or creating barriers to solutions. Time to rotate the crops!

Our focus in the coming weeks will be on the state budget. We are expecting an agreement of spending levels soon.

Senator Bob Dvorsky and I welcomed our U.S. Congressman, Dave Loebsack, to the Iowa Statehouse this week.

Nancy Quellhorst, President and CEO, Iowa City Chamber of Commerce
Rebecca Neades, Vice President of Public Policy, Iowa City Chamber of Commerce
LaShonda Kennedy, Johnson County School/Business Liaison, Workplace Learning Connection
Geoff Fruin, Assistant to the City Manager, Iowa City
Kelly Hayworth, City Administrator, Coralville
Ellen Habel, Assistant City Adminstrator, Coralville
Adam Sullivan, Crisis Center
Keri Neblett, Crisis Center
Joan Cook, RSVP Director, Elder Services Inc.
Susan Wehr, Executive Director, Elder Services Inc.
Will Downing, Iowa Hospital Association
Congressman Dave Loebsack
David Leshtz, District Manager, Congressman Dave Loebsack
Geoff Lauer, Executive Director, Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa
Tom Cilek
Sorry if I missed you.

Apprenticeship programs are a proven way for workers to improve their skills and get better-paying work. Apprenticeships are also a great way for Iowa workers to train in the skills of a trade or occupation.

It’s estimated that by 2018, 62 percent of all jobs in Iowa—1.1 million jobs—will require some training or education beyond high school. By investing in apprenticeships and job training, we can ensure local employers have the skilled workers they need, while helping Iowans qualify for more rewarding careers that can build a better life for their families.

Over the years, Iowa's Apprenticeship Program has funded efforts to help Iowans boost their workplace skills through a combination of classroom course work and on-the-job training. In 2013, Iowa had 662 registered apprenticeship programs with more than 8,100 registered apprentices.

Legislation (Senate File 2317) approved by the Senate Economic Growth Committee improves the state's Apprenticeship Program and increases funding to $8 million for apprenticeships and specific worker training efforts at our community colleges. The amount of funding each business is receives for the training they provide depends on the total number of businesses involved, the number of apprentices served and the hours of training.

The Iowa Senate unanimously approved legislation to increase penalties for child kidnapping in response to the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard of Dayton last year by Michael Klunder.

Our goal is to deter others from perpetrating such crimes against Iowans in the future, as we recall what Kathlynn, a high school freshman, went through.

We approved a 25-year prison sentence for kidnapping a person under the age of 18 (SF 2201). This recommendation came to us from the Public Safety Advisory Board, a group of experts in criminal law, and is supported by the Iowa County Attorneys Association.

We also voted to allow the courts to review juvenile convictions of sexual predators and place them indefinitely in detention for treatment upon release from prison if the circumstances warrant (SF 2211). If these laws had been in place when Michael Klunder committed his first kidnappings and sexual abuse, he would still be confined today.

We will work with the Iowa House to find common ground on this issue and come up with the best possible solution. No child should ever have to endure what Kathlynn experienced, and no family should ever have to live through what the Shepards did last year.

I hope the passage of these bills bring some relief and closure for Denise and Mike Shepard. New laws will not bring back their daughter Kathlynn, but they will better protect all Iowa children from predators in the future.

We are on the right track to helping Iowa's most troubled youth with a bill approved recently by the Senate Human Resources Committee. SF 2322 addresses the loss of services and education for delinquent girls due to the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.

Without the Home, we are left with a gaping hole in Iowa’s safety net. Right now, Iowa judges have no appropriate place to send our most troubled girls for treatment and education. Disability Rights Iowa, Iowa’s Juvenile Court officers and the chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Toledo all favor the approach adopted in SF 2322.

The bill ensures equitable services for troubled girls and boys. It requires accreditation of treatment programs and educational services. It emphasizes contemporary, evidence-based approaches to treatment and staff training. And it increases accountability for guardians and attorneys who advocate on a youth’s behalf.

Iowa schools will become safer and more secure if new legislation becomes law. Senate File 2136 creates a “School Infrastructure Safety and Security Fund” to provide grants to school districts for installing and operating basic security measures that are commonly used elsewhere.

Fear and confusion can quickly ensue when school buildings don’t have basic security equipment that many large private employers have in place. During a school lockdown, for example, teachers often have no immediate way to access official information about the threat.

Under SF 2136, $10 million in state funds would be available to purchase and install entry control devices, door locking hardware, two-way doors and glass, alarm communication systems, glass-break sensors, two-way radios and other equipment that reflect school safety and security best practices. Local schools would match the state investment on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

This is a first step toward making our schools safer for schoolchildren and educators. Once we get the ball rolling, common sense measures will quickly become commonplace.

As a state, we want all Iowans on the move. We all need to get to work, pick up groceries, drive our kids to school and more. This includes those living with disabilities, who want to live independently and with dignity. That is the basis for strengthening state law for assistance with fuel pumps at Iowa gas stations.

People with disabilities can find it difficult or impossible to gas up their vehicles if they are unable to use the controls, hose or nozzle of a fuel pump. People with disabilities may not be able to get their gas at self-service stations, and may be forced to use full-service stations, where the fuel is more expensive.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires gas stations to provide equal access for their customers with disabilities. Federal laws say stations must:

• Provide refueling assistance upon the request of an individual with a disability.

• Let customers know that those with disabilities can obtain refueling assistance by signaling an employee.

• Provide refueling assistance without any charge beyond the self-serve price, if the customer wants only fuel.

To ensure access to fuel for all Iowans, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved Senate File 2284. The bill instructs the Iowa Department of Agriculture to establish rules for gas stations to comply with ADA requirements. The rules will outline requirements for signage, a large call button near a pump that can be reached from a driver’s vehicle with a closed hand, and employee assistance without additional fee. Gas stations must comply within six months of when the rules are adopted. Noncompliance could result in license revocation.

Learn more ADA compliance and fuel pumps at www.ada.gov/gasbrief.htm.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, are aircraft that can be flown remotely. Almost daily, we see news stories about these devices, which can be easily purchased by anyone. They come in many shapes and sizes, and most can be equipped with sound and video recording equipment.

It’s inevitable that drones will fly Iowa skies, and many may already being doing so—often for good purposes. But with the potential to invade privacy and other concerns, legislators want to take the first steps to ensure Iowans' rights will not be compromised by the use of drones.

A drone's potential is often limited only by imagination. They can be especially useful in fighting fires, tracking wildlife, finding lost people, assisting law enforcement in chasing suspects, monitoring the weather and inspecting pipelines. A recent television news show reported that Amazon.com is researching the possibility of delivering packages using drones.

Despite the advantages of drones, their use has raised significant safety and privacy concerns throughout the country. Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees the use of drones in U.S. airspace. Those who use drones for purposes other than recreation (flying model airplanes, for example) must apply to the FAA for permission to operate.

To address Iowans concerns over the potential misuse of drones—particularly those that can record sound and video—the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved Senate File 2314. The bill requires law enforcement to seek a warrant prior to using a drone to gather evidence or other information pertaining to a crime. However, a law enforcement agency may use a drone without securing a warrant in emergencies. In addition, the bill prohibits using drones to conduct surveillance of another person or the property of another person without their consent.

Iowa has an outstanding tradition of welcoming new families from all over the world. Now we need to support that effort with increased funding and support for English Language Learners (ELL).

The number of ELL students in public schools has doubled since 2000, making up 5 percent of public school students during the 2012-13 school year. The diversity of native languages among our ELL students is also growing. There are now 29 languages of origin spoken by at least 50 students in the state of Iowa.

The increase in ELL students, coupled with their comparably lower academic achievement levels, prompted state education officials to take a closer look at what we can do to help. A task force met in 2013 and came up with recommendations to improve how school districts work with ELL students, including a professional development to help teachers better understand the needs of ELL students, how they acquire a second language, and the practices that work best in instructing and assessing them.

The task force also recommends a gradual boost in funding to bring Iowa closer to the national average when it comes to what states invest in their ELL students. The extra money would be used for resources, individualized instruction and professional development for teachers, smaller class sizes for ELL students, translators, software programs, assessment and other methods to help all students become proficient in English reading, writing and speaking.

The task force’s findings are outlined in a report published by the Iowa Department of Education.

Iowa is on the way to becoming the healthiest state in the nation. For the second straight year, we've placed in the top 10 on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, showing continuous improvement in overall wellbeing since 2010.

The Well-Being Index is compiled from a daily survey that measures physical and emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment, social and community factors, financial security, and access to necessities such as food, shelter and healthcare. Many of the states that outrank Iowa are our neighbors, including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota.

To reach our goal of becoming the healthiest state in the nation by 2016, we still have work to do in five key areas:

1. Tobacco use: Decreasing the number of Iowans who smoke.

2. Nutrition: Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables. It's hard to believe Iowa—the agricultural heartland—ranks 43rd in consuming fruits and vegetables.

3. Lifelong learning: Increasing the number of Iowans who are learning or doing something new and interesting daily.

4. Dental health: Increasing the number of Iowans who have visited the dentist in the last year. One in three Iowans are not getting to the dentist regularly.

5. Workplace wellbeing: Increasing the number of Iowans who feel their boss treats them like a partner at work. Iowa ranks 6th in workplace partnerships.

To learn more about Iowa's Healthiest State Initiative and how you can take advantage of the resources it has to offer to improve you own wellbeing, go to www.iowahealthieststate.com.

Find out how America's wellbeing is changing at http://info.healthways.com/wbi2013.


• 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 e-mail info@jcht.org.

• 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 to 9 p.m. Refreshments will be provided. For more information, please check out the Facebook event page at www.facebook.com/events/469743916464353/.

Download photos at www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/bolkcom/photos.

On Monday, I met with David Leshtz, district manager of Congressman Loebsack’s Iowa City Office.

Iowa’s Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is our state’s primary source for volunteers age 55 and over. In 2013, 5,074 Iowa RSVP volunteers provided more than 400,000 hours of service to Iowans. RSVP members visited the Capitol to share stories of service and thank legislators for their continued support for local RSVP programs. Pictured with me is Joan Cook from Iowa City.

The Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association is a non-profit organization that provides help to foster, adoptive and kinship families. I spoke with Janet Rorholm from Cedar Rapids about how legislators can ensure that Iowa continues to provide the resources necessary to help all families succeed.

Iowa State University’s Leopold Center is a research and education center working to develop new ways of farming successfully while conserving natural resources. The Leopold Center currently supports 17 research projects in Iowa. I spoke with Mark Rasmussen about the help Leopold Center research has provided Iowa farmers.

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.