April 4, 2014

Week 11
Visitors to the Capitol
More Skilled Workers Will Grow Iowa’s Economy
Creating Jobs, Growing Middle Class with Clean Energy
Ensuring College Remains Affordable
Courts Budget Will Enhance Justice
Helping Iowans Eliminate Bullying
Funding will Tackle Distracted Driving in Iowa
Recent Photos

The Senate moved several budget bills this week, a sign that we are getting closer to the end of this session.

Hawkeye Caucus descended on the Capitol this week! The University of Iowa was on display with 50 different programs highlighted at the Statehouse. President Mason and university representatives did a great job showing all the ways that the University of Iowa contributes to Iowans' wellbeing.

On Monday, I appeared on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River program. We discussed the progress this session in making medical cannabis available to chronically ill patients. Here is a link to the River to River program.

We moved a bill out of a Senate Ways & Means subcommittee to stop the final $25 million in tax subsidies to the Egyptian-based firm Orascom and their fertilizer plant in Lee County. This project has already received more than $75 million in state subsidies and another $430 million in federal and local taxpayer subsidies, for a total of more than $500 million. Enough is enough. The bill would prevent another $25 million in tax subsidies this July. This has to be the worst economic development deal ever! The Governor was either snookered or knew exactly what he was doing. Senator Randy Feenstra stormed out of the meeting calling the bill “bullshit”. Here is a link to a news story about the bill and committee meeting.

Another bill moved out of a Senate Ways & Means subcommittee yesterday that would require employees to opt into an agreement with their employers to be paid with a payroll debt card. Payroll debt cards have come under fire because workers are being charged a swipe fee every time they use the card to access their own money. The cards are a rip-off. Here is a story about the bill.

We also spent time this week trying to understand the slough of scandals Governor Branstad has created in state government. Senator Rob Hogg has asked Governor Branstad to provide more details about comments he made about state employees allegedly involved in elder abuse and sexual misconduct. The Governor has refused to provide any details on what he has done to a stop the alleged abuse. Here is a news story about the debate.

Yesterday, the Oversight Committee conducted a hearing to investigate hush money payments made by Branstad appointed department heads to fire state workers. Here are two news articles about the meeting by the Des Moines Register and The Gazette. The Des Moines Register investigation indicates that at least eight different department heads signed secret agreements. At this point, the Governor’s office is saying they knew nothing about this. That's hard to believe.

Over the past three years, the department heads working for Governor Branstad have been under his thumb. They are not able to interact with or provide legislators information unless asked. They have to run everything that goes out to the press by his staff. They can’t sneeze without permission. They are the most timid and unhelpful appointments I have worked with—and this is my third Governor. It is really quite unbelievable that David Roederer, head of the Department of Management, or the Governor’s former Chief of Staff Jeff Boeyink did not know about these agreements. They decide every other thing that goes on, but not secret agreements? I mean really, unbelievable.

The Branstad Administration's director of workforce development, Teresa Wahlert, has also been charged with interfering with decisions made by administrative law judges in unemployment disputes with state employees. The former top judge filed a lawsuit yesterday in this case. Here is a new story about that mess.

University of Iowa Students and Alumni coming together for a group photo on Hawkeye Caucus Day. Go Hawks!

Sally Mason, President, University of Iowa
Barry Butler, Provost, University of Iowa
David Johnson, Dean, College of Dentistry
Tom Rocklin, Vice President for Student Life, University of Iowa
John Doershuk, Director, the Office of the State Archaeologist
Joe Brennan, Vice President of Strategic Communication, University of Iowa
Chaden Djalali, Dean, UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Dan McMillan, Director of Communications, UI College of Public Health
Martha Kirby, Academic Advisor, University of Iowa
Wenfang Tang, Political Science Professor, University of Iowa
Witek Krawjewski, Director, Iowa Flood Center
Nate Young, Associate Director, Iowa Flood Center
Bob Welsh
Larry Kudej
A whole bunch of Hawkeyes!
Sorry if I missed you.

We need to do more to expand Iowa’s middle class and help Iowans still recovering from the national recession.

One problem is that Iowa does not have enough skilled workers to fill available job openings. Today, about 66 percent of jobs require some education beyond high school. Yet almost 300,000 working-age Iowans don't have a high school diploma. In fact, only about 33 percent of Iowans have the necessary training and credentials to fill middle-skill jobs.

In recent years, we've worked to turn these numbers around with strong investments in workers and job-training programs. Iowa business leaders tell us it is the most important thing we can do to grow our state’s economy. Skilled workers are more productive, adaptable, and able to meet the changing demands of today's jobs.

This year's Education Budget (SF 2347), which was recently approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, will increase the number of Iowa's skilled workers with funding for job training efforts throughout the state. We're providing $40.3 million to support worker training for the most in-demand jobs among local employers. This includes:

• $6 million for the Accelerated Career Education (ACE). ACE helps community colleges and local businesses work together to establish or expand programs that train Iowans in the skills most needed to fill job openings. Participating employers include those in manufacturing, processing or assembling products, construction, research and development, or services.

• $5 million for Skilled Worker Tuition Grants. These grants provide need-based financial assistance to Iowans earning certificates for in-demand jobs. Grants for full-time students are designed to cover half the average tuition and mandatory fees at Iowa community colleges, depending on the student’s financial need and the amount of funding available.

• Investing in adult basic education to help Iowans earn their high school equivalency, career pathways that connect education and training to create a pathway to work in a high-demand field, and pathway navigators to put more low-skill adult workers on the path to earning postsecondary credentials.

These investments aren't just good for business; they're also good for Iowa families. When 23 percent of our working families don't make enough to pay for day-to-day necessities, job training can provide the chance they need to build a better life.

As a leader in wind energy and ethanol, Iowa is showing the nation that clean energy works—and it's good for more than just the environment. Bipartisan support for expanding production is helping Iowa create good jobs that strengthen our middle class.

Here are two bills that we approved in the Senate this session to build on Iowa’s reputation for clean energy and renewable fuels, as well as the good jobs these industries create:

Senate File 2340 triples the amount of solar energy tax credits available to Iowa farmers, homeowners and businesses. It builds on the success of Iowa’s 2012 tax credit, which encourages Iowans to install solar energy systems. Jobs were created and many Iowa businesses became skilled at installing and operating solar systems. By tripling the solar tax credit, Iowa is responding to the growing demand for solar power and maximizing the benefit for Iowans from federal solar tax credits, which expire at the end of 2016.

Senate File 2343 extends the deadline to complete wind and other projects using Iowa’s Renewable Energy Tax Credits. It also allows landfill gas to be used as fuel for innovative cogeneration projects. The carbon footprint of Iowa ethanol is already lower than that of fossil fuels. By adding cogeneration processes to the mix, Iowa will produce even fewer greenhouse gases.

These bills are now being considered by the Iowa House.

Our state has a history of great local schools and outstanding colleges and universities. Iowa students have the chance to go as far as their talent can take them. This year's Education Budget, approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, helps ensure that opportunity continues to be available to future generations.

SF 2347 provides funding for our community colleges, state universities, and other agencies that prepare well-educated, well-trained workers who can help Iowa succeed in today's global economy.

Iowans and businesses value the opportunities that our high-quality community colleges provide. Their role in education and job training is growing, but funding is not keeping up. On top of that, inflation is making a college education more costly than ever.

That's why we want to provide an increase of $8 million in general aid to our community colleges. This funding will help keep tuition rates down so that all Iowans who want to further their education can afford to do it—whether they are high school grads earning their first college credits or working parents who want to learn a new skill to qualify for a better job.

Affordability at the University of Iowa, Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa is of equal concern. The average student graduating from one of our state universities has almost $27,000 in debt. That's an increase of 57 percent over the last decade. To ensure Iowa's bright young people can get the education our top-notch public universities offer, we want to increase funding by $24 million. The Board of Regents has assured us that these dollars will prevent a tuition increase for the second straight year.

The Education Budget will next be debated by the full Senate. You can track the progress of this important bill by following SF 2347 on the Iowa Legislature's website.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Judicial Branch Budget this week. Senate File 2449 provides $175 million for the operation of Iowa’s courts statewide. That's an increase of $6 million over last year.

Our efforts to boost funding for our courts over the last couple years are having good results. All of Iowa’s clerk of court offices, which had been forced to reduce hours during the national recession, are now open full time. Clerks help thousands of Iowans take care of court-related business every day. Clerks of court manage all court records, notify government agencies of court orders, and process fines, fees, court costs, child support, civil judgments and speeding tickets.

Senate File 2449 will allow the courts to maintain their current level of services and to expand Family Treatment Courts, which work with community professionals to help Iowans struggling with substance abuse or other problems that put them at risk of losing their parental rights. Family Treatment Courts offer Iowans intense guidance on how to stay off drugs, be good parents, and make a positive contribution to their community. These programs have had excellent results in keeping families together and kids safe.

Iowa has earned its reputation for having one of the best court systems in the country. With this year's budget, the Legislature is committed to continuing that success.

For many, school can be a terrifying place because of bullying, harassment, and discrimination. All students deserve a safe and supportive place to learn, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

Iowa Safe Schools works to create safe and supportive learning environments and communities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender youth through outreach, education, and advocacy. This week, the organization hosted the Governor's Conference on LGBT Youth.

Founded in 2006, the state's annual conference is the largest of its kind nationally. More than 900 people from 90 Iowa communities attended in 2013, including students, educators, counselors, lawmakers, parents, faith leaders, and others who care about the wellbeing of our young people. The mission of this annual conference is to engage and educate Iowans about LGBT issues, and to encourage networking and activism that promote diversity, equality, and social justice.

In 2007, the Legislature approved a bill that required school districts to have anti-bullying policies, and to collect and report data on incidents of bullying and harassment. It was heralded as one of the best policies in the country at the time.

Senate File 2318 establishes the Office of Support & Analysis for Safe Schools to coordinate and implement efforts to prevent and respond to harassment and bullying. Competitive grants will promote high-quality bully prevention and positive school climate programs for the Iowa schools most in need.

The House has yet to take up the bill, but it is my hope that our efforts, along with those of communities, schools and organizations like Iowa Safe Schools, can eliminate bullying and inspire acceptance and understanding among all Iowans.

You can learn more about the work of Iowa Safe Schools at www.iowasafeschools.org.

The Iowa Senate started Distracted Driving Awareness Month on April 1 by setting aside $200,000 to educate Iowans about the dangers of distracted driving. The money, a part of the Department of Transportation's budget bill (SF 2130), will go toward warning Iowans throughout the year that a text or call is not worth your life or anyone else’s.

Distracted driving is an epidemic that killed 3,328 people and injured 421,000 in 2012 alone. 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. Despite these startling statistics, 85 percent of drivers report using a cell phone while driving, according to experts from the University of Iowa.

Text messaging is the most serious distraction for drivers because it involves taking your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off the task of driving. According to a Carnegie Mellon study, driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. A report from the National Safety Council found that people talking on cell phones or sending text messages cause more than one out of every four traffic collisions.

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 officers can only write a ticket for texting if they pull you over for speeding or another violation. Recent polls, however, show that 83 percent of Iowans want tougher laws for texting while driving.

To learn more about Distracted Driving Awareness Month and how you can reduce distractions behind the wheel, visit the National Safety Council's website at www.nsc.org/safety_road/Distracted_Driving/Pages/DDAM.aspx.


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

Senator Bill Dotzler and I greeted members of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition when they Statehouse for the Iowa Legislative Bike Ride on April 1. Bike enthusiasts gathered for a five-mile ride on bike lanes and trails in Des Moines. Bicycling is becoming an important part of Iowa’s tourism industry.

Kirkwood Community College Trustees talked with legislators about funding for Iowa's high-quality community colleges. I'm voting to boost the state's investment in community colleges this year. These new dollars will help keep tuition rates down so that all Iowans who want to further their education can afford to do it. Pictured with me, from left: James Mollenhauer, Paul Glenn, Sen. Wally Horn, John Swanson, Mick Starcevich and Sen. Bob Dvorsky.

Wednesday was Hawkeye Caucus Day at the Capitol. It was an excellent opportunity to see everything that the University of Iowa is working on, and to talk with faculty from the university. Pictured with me is Wenfang Tang of the Political Science Department and Chaden Djalali, dean of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


Arts Council invites nominations for Governor’s Arts Awards
The Iowa Arts Council is seeking nominations for the Governor’s Arts Awards, which recognize and honor those that have had a significant impact on the vitality of the arts in Iowa. Nominations may be submitted through April 30 at www.iowaartssummit.com/get-involved. Individuals, organizations and businesses can be nominated in four categories:

• The Public Art Leadership Award recognizes those that demonstrate leadership and commitment to developing public art in Iowa.

• The Collaboration & Partnership in the Arts Award recognizes those that undertake an artistic cooperation that brings together diverse partners.

• The Excellence & Innovation in the Arts Award recognizes those dedicated to artistic excellence and that capitalize on new or emerging methods or trends in the arts.

• The Impact & Accessibility in the Arts Award recognizes those that initiate a community artistic undertaking that is broad in scope and serves a significant number of Iowans or that improves access to the arts.

Iowa Cultural Trust accepting applications for funding
Through May 1, the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs is accepting applications for two funding opportunities. Cultural Trust Stability Grants assist Iowa cultural organizations in reaching fiscal stability and instituting best practices in organizational strategic planning and management. Cultural Trust Endowment Challenge Grants encourage giving to Iowa's cultural organizations by providing matching dollars to endowment funds intended to supplement cultural organization operating budgets. Learn more at www.culturalaffairs.org/funding/cultural_trust.

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.