March 14, 2014

Week 9: revenge of the funnel
Visitors to the Capitol
Investment in student achievement must move forward
Ensuring childcare is affordable for working families
Fuel pump updates help Iowans with disabilities
Cracking down on texting while driving for safer roads
IC library enriches community
News you can use

This week, another legislative funnel arrived. A bill had to be voted out of at least one chamber and a committee in the opposite chamber to remain alive for the session. That made for a lot of committee work. In the Senate Ways & Means Committee, we approved SSB 3101, a bill to increase incentives for homeowners, farms and businesses to deploy solar energy systems. We also approved a bill (see the details below) to increase eligibility for more families to take advantage of the child and dependent tax credit. In addition, we are working to make the Child Care Assistance Program more useful to Iowa families. Here is a link to a report this week from the Iowa Policy Project on the need to make this program work more effectively.

Next week, the Senate Republicans will renew their attack on women’s health care services when they request a Senate debate on a bill banning telemedicine health care services. Here is a news story about this issue and their efforts.

Governor Branstad said this week there are too many “unintended consequences” to the creation of a medical cannabis program in Iowa. Here is a link to the story at Radio Iowa. Also, as expected, the Iowa Board of Pharmacy this week rejected a petition to reschedule marijuana and create a medical cannabis program. Here is a link to a Gazette story on their decision. They punted the issue back to the Legislature, where it most likely belongs. As long as we have a Governor that is opposed to medical cannabis, suffering Iowans will be forced to leave our state. It is time for a change!

I also spent time this week working with Senator Ragan and Senator Hatch on the Health & Human Services budget. Lots of hard decisions are ahead with how we ensure health and basic safety net services for our citizens. Work also continued on mental health redesign. I met with county mental health leaders and DHS to discuss on-going funding concerns. Governor Branstad’s administration is putting the financial screws to services for people with disabilities when more investment is needed. It’s time for a change.

I filed my nomination petition this week for re-election to another four-year term. There is no shortage of issues, and I remain energized to tackle them!

Paul Ostrem, Southeastern Iowa Synod ELCA
Gerry Kuhl, Luthern Social Services
Mark Patton, Executive Director, Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity
Bruce Maurer, Iowa Fraternal Alliance
Kim Painter, Johnson County Recorder
Sorry if I missed you.

A wise investment in student achievement should be one of our highest priorities. I joined my colleagues in the Iowa Senate to approve funding for the 2015-16 school year early in the session.

Unfortunately, the House so far has not addressed school funding, which makes up the largest part of the state budget. The Legislature is required by state law to decide school funding 18 months in advance so that local school districts can plan their budgets and make the best use of the money available to them.

Developing a fiscally sound state budget is our responsibility as legislators. Deciding on local school funding in a timely manner is expected from our constituents.

An increase right now could help Iowa schools recover from several lean years while also implementing the education reforms we approved in 2013. This is even more critical at a time when the amount our state spends on each student has dropped to 37th in the nation. Iowa now spends $1,500 less per student than the national average.

The state of Iowa is in good financial shape. 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.

We should invest in student achievement and a strong future workforce for Iowa.

Iowa ranks third in the nation when it comes to the number of households with children under the age of 6 in which both parents work. That means Iowa families need good childcare, which can come at a high price.

As we look at ways to strengthen Iowa's middle class, it makes sense that families be able to afford childcare that allows them to work and advance in their careers. 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.

The good news is that Iowa's working families can benefit from our state's child and dependent care tax credit. To be eligible, all parents in a household must work and incur eligible childcare expenses.

Iowa’s state credit builds on the federal tax credit, offering an additional boost to working families. The federal credit allows working families to deduct 20 to 35 percent of their eligible expenses from their taxes, with a maximum credit of $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children.

Unfortunately, the benefit from Iowa’s state tax credit has eroded over time, which is why the Senate Ways & Means Committee is working to improve it.

SF 2337 will improve our state's child and dependent care tax credit by allowing Iowans to claim a state credit of up to 93.75 percent of the federal credit, increasing income eligibility from $45,000 to $67,410 and indexing for inflation. The bill extends eligibility to an additional 40,000 households, helping more families afford the childcare they need to work and succeed.

Iowans rely on their vehicles to get to work, pick up groceries, drive their kids to school and more. This includes those living with disabilities, who want to live independently and with dignity. That is why the Senate voted to strengthen the 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. They may not be able to get their gas at self-service stations, and may be forced to use full-service stations, where fuel is more expensive.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act, authored by Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, gives civil rights protections to people with disabilities. It requires gas stations to provide equal access for their customers with disabilities by:

• Providing refueling assistance upon the request of an individual with a disability. A service station is not required to provide such service at any time that it is operating on a remote control basis with a single employee.

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

• Providing 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 approved Senate File 2284. The bill outlines what new gas stations will need to do to comply with ADA standards, including 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. Newly constructed and existing gas stations may qualify for tax credits for installing these updates.

Learn more about ADA compliance and fuel pumps at

Recent polls show 83 percent of Iowans want tougher laws for texting while driving. The Iowa Senate responded with a bipartisan vote to strengthen penalties and enforcement.

Texting is the most dangerous form of driver distraction. It makes the chance of an accident 23 times greater because it takes our mind off driving, our eyes off the road, and at least one hand off the steering wheel. Drivers who text have slower reaction times, are 70 percent less likely to stay in their lane, and often fail to notice traffic signs.

Between 2001 and 2012, about 8,000 Iowa crashes were the result of drivers distracted by a phone or other device. These crashes resulted in almost 4,000 injuries and dozens of deaths. Nonetheless, 85 percent of drivers report using a cell phone while driving, according to experts from the University of Iowa.

In 2010, Iowa made it a crime to write, read or send a text message while driving, but the law is a secondary offense for adults. That means an officer can only write a ticket for texting if he pulls you over for another violation, such as speeding. Texting behind the wheel is a primary offense in 37 states and Washington, D.C., including our neighboring states Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

This week, the Senate approved Senate File 2289, which would make texting while driving a primary offense in Iowa as well. It would give officers the authority to pull over a driver specifically for texting. It also makes texting while driving a moving violation, meaning drivers will accrue points on their license.

Teens have been the primary focus of Iowa's texting and driving laws and education efforts. But they aren't the only ones practicing this dangerous behavior. A recent report from AAA indicates that drivers ages 25 to 39 are the most distracted by their cellphones.

Even more disheartening, many parents are not setting a good example. When educators from the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau talk with Iowa teens about the dangers of distracted driving, half the students say their parents text while driving.

Through the Enrich Iowa program, the Legislature provides money for our local public libraries. Our libraries play a role in workforce, economic development, education, and lifelong learning. Cedar Valley residents use the Iowa City library to find jobs, do homework, apply to college, learn about medical treatments, access government information, discover new books, and more.

Iowa City received $15,257. In their own words, here is how the library used their 2013 dollars: "State aid has helped us fund a two‐year capital project. In FY13 we replaced worn carpet, moved our magazine collection to new display shelving, created a new service desk and added additional self‐check stations. Our city is supporting less than half of the overall cost of our capital improvement project. The other funding is coming from private gifts and state money. Without the state money, we would not be able to make all of the service improvements that our patrons are enjoying."


Domestic Violence Intervention Program Souper Bowl
The Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) is hosting its Seventeenth Annual "Souper Bowl" fund raising event March 27, 2014, 5:30-7:30pm at the Clarion Hotel and Highlander Convention Center on North Dodge.

The Souper Bowl dinner provides funding to support victims of domestic violence. The event is supported by more than 40 area restaurants donating their best soups. Artists, students, and merchants donate bowls for those attending the Souper Bowl to take home. For the price of a ticket ($25.00 per person, $15.00 for students and children eat free) select your favorite bowl and have as much soup as you can eat. All of the money raised supports DVIP services in Johnson County.

The DVIP is looking for volunteers for the event; those interested in volunteering can call DVIP at 319-351-1043 for more information.

DVIP is a United Way agency and relies on private donations to provide services to children and adults affected by violence. DVIP provides crisis intervention and support services to more than 1700 women, children and men last year, and received nearly 18,000 hotline calls.

Confidential information and assistance is available 24 hours a day at (319) 351-1043 or toll free at 1-800-373-1043.

Those who wish to buy tickets in advance may call Kristie Fortmann-Doser at 319-356-9863 ext 2 or send an email to

Johnson County Financial Literacy Fair
On April 1 and 2, 8th graders will participate in a Johnson County Financial Literacy Fair at the Coralville Public Library! In class, students have selected a career and determined salary/taxes. They’ll come to the fair to face the reality of monthly bills for necessities (transportation, insurance, food, etc.) and extras (where it really adds up!). At the end, they’ll meet one-on-one with a financial counselor to discuss their choices!

We are looking for volunteers to help at the booths. Would you like to join the fun? We’d love to have you or a team of folks from your organization join in the fun. No experience necessary! We’ll train you the ½ hour before students arrive.

If you (or your team) would like to volunteer, register at

April 1, 2014 - 8:30am – noon
North Central Jr. High
Regina Middle School

April 1, 2014 - 11:45am - 2:00pm
Clear Creek-Amana Middle School
Lone Tree Middle School

April 2, 2014 - 8:30am – noon
North Cedar Middle School
North West Junior High
Solon Middle School
West Branch Middle School

I.D. Action Grant
ID Action is offering grant funds to local advocacy groups that have a plan to take action in their community. Activities and initiatives of grant recipients must be nonpartisan and encourage individuals with disabilities to vote in the 2014 primary or general elections, raise awareness and educate elected officials and/or candidates on disability-related issue. To apply, download the ID Action Vote Grant Guidelines and an ID Action Vote Grant Application. Application deadline is April 1, no later than 4 p.m. via e-mail or 11 a.m. via personal delivery.

Job Opportunity
The University of Iowa Press seeks a Managing Editor to direct manuscript editorial, proofreading, and indexing stages of all books published by the University of Iowa Press including: planning, organizing, writing and editing content to assure accuracy and maintain scholarly book publishing standards.

The University of Iowa Press is a small but vital member of the AAUP. The press publishes 40-45 books a year in the areas of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, natural history, fan studies, food studies, literary criticism, theatre history, the public humanities, book studies, and regional studies.

Competitive salary with fringe benefits. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply. Applicant credentials subject to verification. To see a full job description and to apply for this position, go to, Requisition #64052.The University of Iowa is an Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Employer.


Submit nominations for Healthy Iowa Awards
Through April 4, nominations are being accepted for the Healthy Iowa Awards. This is a chance to recognize the achievements of cities, schools, businesses, individuals, colleges and universities in advancing well-being. The awards are sponsored by the Healthiest State Initiative and the Iowa Department of Public Health. For more information and nomination forms, go to

Increase your disaster preparedness
Communities are better prepared to withstand an emergency and recover more quickly when everyone is involved. Nearly 70 percent of Americans have not participated in a preparedness drill or exercise, according to a FEMA.

America’s PrepareAthon can help. It is a community-based campaign to increase emergency preparedness at the grassroots level. The first PrepareAthon national day of action is April 30. It will focus on preparing organizations and individuals for tornadoes, flooding and more. It's a great opportunity to discuss, practice and train for the hazards your area faces.

To learn more about America’s PrepareAthon and disaster readiness, go to

Plan your Iowa sightseeing
As the temperatures warm up, it's time to think about what you might like to do and see around Iowa. The most popular Iowa destinations are historical attractions, museums, scenic byways, outdoor recreation and shopping.

The latest edition of the Iowa Travel Guide will inspire you to explore all Iowa has to offer. The free guide is available through and is a great companion to the website. It features nearly 800 attractions, 200 bed and breakfasts, 500 campgrounds/cabins and 600 hotels.

Tourism in Iowa generates more than $7.6 billion a year and employs 64,400 people statewide. According to the 2013 Iowa Welcome Center Survey Report, the amount travelers are spending in Iowa is on the rise. Tourism is providing a boost to local economies as visitors take more trips and spend more on lodging, entertainment, transportation, food and shopping.

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.