March 7, 2014

Week Eight
Youth off road riders spring benefit and hand-built bike show: tonight
Crisis Center Pancake Breakfast – Saturday
Visitors to the Capitol
Ensuring Iowans get Paid for their Work
Protecting Seniors from Abuse & Exploitation
Reducing Health Risks with Radon Testing in Schools
Modernizing Criminal Law on Infectious Disease
Good Policies can Help Troubled Youth
Local Businesses Succeed with Help from Development Centers

Budget targets were handed down from House (Republican) and Senate (Democratic) leaders this week. Total state spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1 will be nearly $6.972 billion. That represents a 7.39 percent increase compared to current year funding ($6.492 billion). Big-ticket items include $170 million to provide a 4 percent boost in state aid to K-12 public schools, and $86 million to pick up a greater share of the state’s Medicaid obligation not covered by the federal government. There are many hard decisions ahead in putting together our budgets.

The Senate approved legislation this week to address the issue of wage theft (see article below). On a party line vote (26-23), we approved a requirement that businesses provide in writing what they have agreed to pay their employees and keep a record of it on file. Simple. Sadly, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the largest, most powerful group of Iowa employers strongly opposed this legislation and made it clear it would be scored on their legislative scorecard. It’s hard to understand the logic of this business association and all the Senate Republicans that stand with the cheats over hard working Iowans.

Medical cannabis got a boost this week. In back to back meetings on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee chaired by Senator Matt McCoy and the Senate Ways & Means Committee, which I chair, hosted advocates for medical cannabis to address senators about the need to develop safe, legal access to medical cannabis. While it was a departure from both committees regular business, it provided an excellent opportunity for patients, family members and medical experts to speak directly to more than 20 senators and a couple of key House members that attended. Both meetings were very informative. There were also good questions and discussion at both meetings. Here is a link to video of presentations from the meetings. Here are some links to news coverage of the meetings: KCCI-TV, Quad City Times and Des Moines Register.

I would like to especially thank patients and family members Sally Gaer, Connie Norgart and Ryan Weidner, as well as the medical professionals who participated (Dr. Thomas Carlstrom, M.D. retired neurosurgeon, Des Moines; Dr. Charles Goldman, surgical oncologist, Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines; and Frank Caligiuri, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at Drake University).

Legislative leaders were asked at their regular weekly press conferences yesterday about the issue. Here is what they said. Suffering people are waiting and Iowans are being forced to move away to get the health care and medicine they need. It’s time to speed up the education and action on this issue.

Gupta: 'I am doubling down' on medical marijuana - Watch his CNN Special Report on Tuesday evening at 9:00 pm: "Weed 2: Cannabis Madness: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports."

I spent time this week discussing proposals to end greyhound dog racing in Iowa, which I strongly support. I also continued to work on legislation to help advance solar energy businesses, and I met with county mental health leaders on how to strengthen our fragile county/regional mental health system. There is still a lot of work ahead in the coming six or seven weeks of this legislative session. I will be meeting today with leaders in West Branch and Johnson County on the prospects for a developing a recreational trail between Iowa City and West Branch.

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

Join The Crisis Center on Saturday, March 8, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. to en
joy delicious pancakes and good company. The Crisis Center is partnering with Our Redeemer Lutheran Church again this year for its annual pancake breakfast.

Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children 10 and under. Tickets will be sold at the door from 7 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. on March 8. Tickets can also be purchased in advance at the church, 319-338-5626, or at The Crisis Center, 319-351-2726.

Not yet…but Spring is coming soon! Really!

Sue Curry, Dean, University of Iowa College of Public Health
Chris Atchison, Director, State Hygienic Lab at the University of Iowa
Dan McMillan, Director Office of Communication and External Relations, University of Iowa College of Public Health
Bill Barker, Marketing and Community Outreach Coordinator, University of Iowa College of Public Health
My apologies to the visitors I missed this week.

Nereida Castro and Ismael Ochoa are among hundreds of Iowans who have lost their hard-earned money due to wage theft. They talked with Sen. Matt McCoy and me about what they've been through. Iowa workers and honest Iowa employers suffer when bad actors short paychecks, confiscate tips, misclassify workers, take unauthorized deductions and fail to pay overtime. Ultimately, Iowa workers are cheated out of more than $600 million a year.

Iowa workers and honest employers are hurt when some businesses short paychecks, confiscate tips, misclassify workers, take unauthorized deductions and fail to pay overtime. These bad actors cheat legal workers out of their hard-earned money, drive down wages for all Iowans and are unfair to businesses that play by the rules.

An epidemic of wage theft is taking Iowa workers for $600 million annually. For fiscal year 2013, more than 600 cases of wage theft were reported to the state.

Until the Legislature took action, Iowa Workforce Development had just one wage investigator to work on the concerns of our state's 1.3 million private sector employees. That's why we approved enough money last year to add a second wage investigator.

Iowans should always get paid for the work they have done. Senate File 2328 will help by setting minimum standards to ensure Iowans get paid and allow wage investigators to more easily go after businesses that fail to pay what they owe.

You can learn more about the problem of wage theft in Iowa in this report from the Iowa Policy Project:

Students and staff from the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health talked with lawmakers about their efforts to make Iowans healthier. I had a chance to visit with Senator Dvorsky, Sue Curry, Dean, University of Iowa College of Public Health and Chris Atchison, Director, Iowa State Hygienic Lab at the University of Iowa. Investments in public health pay off in two ways: Iowans—especially young people—are healthier and more able to lead productive, active lives; and their good health means lower health.

Many Iowa seniors are at risk for abuse, neglect and financial exploitation every day, particularly those who depend on others to help them with the most basic activities of daily living.

Iowa has a lot of senior citizens. In fact, our state is among the top five in the country when it comes to the percentage of our population age 65 and older. However, we have little on the books to ensure they get the help they need when faced with abuse and exploitation.

The Senate is addressing that concern with passage of SF 2239, a comprehensive approach to combat incidents of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of Iowa's seniors. The bill follows two years of work by a task force that looked at the challenges state and local agencies face in collaborating to address elder abuse issues.

SF 2239 takes statewide a successful pilot program implemented in 22 Iowa counties by establishing an Elder Abuse Resource & Referral Program within the Area Agencies on Aging. The goal is to empower all older Iowans to maximize their autonomy, increase awareness of the risks and signs of elder abuse, and serve as a single point of contact for seniors seeking help. The bill also establishes criminal penalties for elder abuse and financial exploitation, allowing law enforcement to better protect of Iowa seniors and punish those who take advantage of them.

Iowa seniors deserve respect and dignity. This is one step toward protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens. SF 2239 is now under consideration in the Iowa House.

Radon is a natural radioactive gas that can cause cancer. Even though you can’t see, smell or taste it, it is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer in smokers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Radon is a big problem in Iowa. Our state leads the nation in the amount of radon in our soil. The average indoor radon concentration in Iowa is more than six times the national average. Radon-induced cancer causes an estimated 400 deaths per year in Iowa. That's about the same number of deaths caused by Iowa traffic fatalities.

I supported a bill this week requiring school districts to test for the presence of this silent killer and report radon levels to the Iowa Department of Public Health (SF 2262). The results will be posted on the Department of Public Health website so that parents and teachers are aware of the radon levels in their local school buildings.

Currently, there is no requirement for public or private K-12 schools to test or mitigate radon levels if they are too high. However, childcare centers in Iowa must test for radon within one year of licensing or renewal and every two years following the initial test.

A recent public opinion poll shows that 71 percent of Iowans favor requiring schools to test for radon and to take steps to reduce levels if necessary. It’s time we know what the radon levels are in our local schools.

Cost for radon testing in a typical school building ranges from $500 to $1,500. It is a price worth paying for the health and safety of our kids.

Iowa’s criminal law relating to transmission of HIV is outdated and severely punishes people who have no criminal intent to transmit the disease. The law stigmatizes everyone who suffers from HIV and ends up discouraging people from seeking treatment. No other disease is dealt with in such a punitive way under Iowa law.

Over the years, advances in health care have resulted in big successes in controlling HIV with medication and other treatments. With the knowledge and understanding research has provided us in recent decades, it's time to update Iowa's law on infectious diseases. This week, the Iowa Senate unanimously approved Senate File 2297 to do just that.

Under the bill, it is a crime to intentionally transmit or try to transmit various infectious or contagious diseases, including HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis and meningococcal disease. However, a person who has one of these diseases who does not behave in a way that would transmit the disease would not be guilty of a crime.

The bill promotes public health by encouraging those who may be carrying a disease to seek treatment rather than live fear of being charged with a crime if they have intimate relations with another person.

For more information about HIV and other infectious diseases, go to

Iowa’s expanding trail system provides an economic boost to our communities and makes is easier for our state to attract and keep talented workers looking for great recreational activities. The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is a financial partner and promoter of multiuse trails across our state. Pictured with me are Joe McGovern, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation; Lisa Hein, program & planning director; and Duane Sand, public policy director.

We need to take action as a state to ensure that Iowa’s female juvenile delinquents get the rehabilitation they need to become self-sufficient, upstanding members of their communities.

The Iowa Senate recently approved SF 2322, a bill that seeks to address the lack of services available to our state’s most troubled girls after the abrupt closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. Without the home, Iowa judges do not have an appropriate place to send many young women that need extensive treatment and education to get them on the right track. Iowa’s private mental health providers also do not have the necessary facilities and staff to care for these young women.

Legislators held numerous hearings and listened to advocates and experts to come up with the best possible solution. SF 2322 would establish a state training school for girls, which is accredited to provide high-quality treatment and educational programs. The bill emphasizes the importance of evidence-based, gender-responsive services for girls and training for staff.

The bill also ensures:

• Children are safe and getting their needs met.

• Education and training services meet state and federal requirements and prepare children for long-term success.

• The training schools develop plans that recognize individual treatment and needs to help youth transition into adulthood, including access to educational and vocational opportunities.

• Guardians for "children in need of assistance" and attorneys representing juvenile delinquents visit the children under their watch.

SF 2322 is now under consideration in the Iowa House.

Iowa's small businesses are the heart of our state's economy. According to the Small Business Administration:

• Small businesses represent more than 97 percent of all firms in Iowa.

• There are more than 260,000 small businesses in our state.

• More than half of all Iowans work for small business.

We need to maintain and expand our efforts to support Iowa small businesses as they rebound from the national recession. With policies that encourage their start-up and growth, we can create local jobs and help our communities thrive.

Iowa's Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) are a great example of wise investment in jobs and economic growth. In 2013, local SBDCs helped 209 clients in Johnson County.

Since 1981, SBDCs have conducted research, provided counseling and trained Iowa business people in management, financing and operating small businesses. Today, there are 16 Small Business Development Centers throughout the state. They have stayed busy helping clients in good and sluggish economic times.

Statewide in 2013, Iowa SBDCs:

• Counselled 2,552 clients

• Saved 1,545 jobs

• Started 209 new business

• Raised $48.9 million in new capital

SBDCs receive federal and state funding. For every $1 invested in the program in 2013, Iowa saw a return of $2.33 in new sales and income taxes because of SBDC assistance to clients. This is a good return on investment, and we can expect even better returns as the economy continues to improve.

Are you interested in starting or expanding a small business? Be sure to work with your local Small Business Development Center. SBDCs provide practical business expertise, free one-on-one counseling and affordable workshops on financing opportunities, market research, cash flow projections, accounting, writing a business plan and much more.

Go to to see what SBDCs can do for Iowa small businesses.


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 non-partisan 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: April 1 2014 - No later than 4:00 p.m. via email or 11:00 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, please visit our website:, Requisition #64052. The University of Iowa is an Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Employer.

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.