April 11, 2014

Week 13
Still hard to believe?
Visitors to the Capitol
Economic plan invests in Iowans, jobs & communities
Education initiatives will open doors for Iowans
Protecting the wages of Iowa workers
Taxpayer money will not be used for secret agreements
Good housing for working Iowans
Use caution when driving in work zones

The session is showing signs of ending in the next two to three weeks. Bills are moving along, and bills that still need work are going overboard.

The other focus right now is in getting to the bottom of what appears to be several scandals emerging from Governor Branstad’s administration. This week, the head of the Department of Administrative Services, Mike Carroll (a Branstad appointed crony), was fired for not telling the Governor the truth about secret hush money payments made to fired state employees. This is after the Governor’s secret investigation of hush money payments made by his Chief of Staff, Matt Hinch, DOM head, Dave Roederer, and his Legal Counsel, Brenna Finley, concluded everything was good. The Governor’s key staff again this week said they were too busy to come before the Senate Oversight Committee to answer questions. The Oversight Committee is the Legislature’s check on bad executive branch actions and decisions. To this point, the Governor has thumbed his nose at the ability of the Legislature to investigate their actions.

Yesterday, a new story surfaced that there is a black list kept by the Department of Administrative Services of almost 1,000 former state workers who are not to be rehired.

Here is an opinion piece on solar energy that Senator Mike Breitbach (R- Strawberry Point) and I had recently published in the Des Moines Register.

This week, I participated in a press conference with the Iowa Brain Injury Alliance in support of funding for brain injury services and services to families with mental health and other disabilities. Here is a link to a news story about the issue.

Bipartisan work continued this week on efforts to help families that need access to safe and legal medical cannabis to treat severe epilepsy. There appears to be growing support for action still this session. Here is an editorial from two of the moms that are leading this effort.

Last week, I wrote the following about Governor Branstad’s management style:

"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 (now a lobbyist at the statehouse) did not know about the secret agreements. They decide every other thing that goes on, but not secret agreements? I mean really, unbelievable."

Here is what I left out last week: I forgot to mention one other person in the mix. The Governor’s Legal Counsel, Brenna Finley. She is the legal brain behind all of the anti-worker efforts of Governor Branstad. It is hard to imagine that she did not know what was going on with all the secret hush money settlements and efforts to turn state government employment into a patronage system to benefit the Governor and his friends.

Most of the problems that have now surfaced are from decisions made under the oversight of these three people. I sure hope the Senate Oversight Committee has an opportunity to visit with these individuals.

Tammy Nyden
Sorry if I missed you.

The Brain Injury Alliance and family members of Iowans on the HCBS Waiver waiting list gathered to support the elimination of the two-year wait for services for Iowans with disabilities. Eight million dollars is needed to begin the process of eliminating the 7,000-person waiting list so that these Iowans can receive the services and supports they deserve without going into nursing homes or institutions. I spoke at the press conference, urging the Branstad administration to work to end the waiting list.

In the final weeks of the 2014 session, we continue our work to strengthen Iowa's middle class and generate economic activity in communities across the state.

A big part of that effort is the Economic Development Budget. House File 2460 funds small business development centers, entrepreneurial research, the arts, cultural and historical projects, workplace safety, and assistance for employers and workers. Highlights include:

• Boosting support for apprenticeships and job retraining programs at our community colleges. Apprenticeships are a great way to prepare Iowans for the workforce because they provide structured vocational skill training through on-the-job and classroom instruction.

• Increasing funding for Iowa’s 16 Small Business Development Centers, which conduct research, provide counseling, and train Iowans in management, financing, and operating a small business. They also offer affordable workshops on market research, cash flow projections, accounting, writing a business plan, and much more.

• Investing in internships for Iowa students studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). This year's funding will be used to expand the Innovative Business Internship Program, which places STEM students in internships with Iowa employers.

• Boosting incentives for businesses that locate and expand in Iowa when they commit to making a strong contribution to our economy and creating good jobs for residents.

• Funding for innovative programs at our state universities that spur economic growth when they work with communities and businesses on technology commercialization, marketing, and entrepreneurship.

• Investing in the arts, cultural endeavors, and historic preservation. These projects draw visitors to our communities and improve the quality of life for local Iowans.

• Financial assistance to help vulnerable Iowans stay in their own homes and remain a part of their communities, when they might otherwise be forced into expensive nursing homes.

The Senate approved an Education plan this week that will boost student achievement, open college and career doors, and strengthen Iowa's middle class.

Senate File 2347 invests $986 million in educational opportunities at all levels. That's an increase of $87 million over last year. Highlights include:

• Helping beginning readers - Children have a lifelong advantage if they learn strong reading skills early in life. These dollars will fund intensive literacy programs for students in grades K-3 who are behind in reading.

• Recruiting Iowa's future teachers - Additional funding for the Teach Iowa Scholars initiative will help recruit the next generation of great Iowa teachers and allow them to get a top-notch college education.

• Supporting Teacher Leadership - This will be the first year of the Teacher Leadership initiative approved in 2013. Teachers want to see their students succeed, but teaching is a tough job. Iowa's most effective educators will act as Teacher Leaders, working with new teachers and mentoring those looking to improve their classroom results.

• Boosting support for worker training - Reducing Iowa’s skilled worker shortage is critical to growing our economy. To tackle that problem, Iowans need job training in specific skills to fill job openings in their local communities. Funding will help adults get certified in a career field where work is readily available.

• More funding for community colleges - An increase of $8 million will help keep tuition affordable at Iowa’s community colleges, the first place many Iowans go for higher education, job training and better career opportunities.

• Expanding support for state universities - Iowa State, UNI, and the University of Iowa are among the best public universities in the country, helping Iowans gain life-long skills and a professional education. An increase of $24 million will continue a tuition freeze for in-state students for a second year.

• Student aid for private colleges – More financial aid for private college students will ensure all Iowa students can afford the education that's right for them and reach their full potential.

Senate File 2347 is now being considered by the Iowa House.

As companies work to modernize their operations, many turn to outside services to handle their payroll and human resources functions. Some employers now pay their employees using payroll debit cards. These cards are issued to employees, and their wages are deposited onto the card on payday.

Payroll debit cards are often convenient for employers and employees, but there can be a downside. These cards may be subject to fees, which can significantly reduce an employee's earnings. Ultimately, an employee ends up paying to be paid. In some cases, fees can reduce a worker's income to less than the minimum wage.

As the use of payroll debit cards has increased, so have the abuses. The Iowa Attorney General's office is currently investigating a number of these abuse cases.

Many of those paid using payroll debit cards are low-wage workers who depend on every dollar they earn to provide for their families. They should not have to worry about losing their wages through unreasonable fees when they try to access their money.

In response to these concerns, the Senate is advancing legislation to outline simple protections for workers who are paid with debit cards. Senate Study Bill 3214 will:

• Require an employee to consent to being paid by payroll debit card.

• Require an employer to inform workers in writing of any fees that may arise from use of the card.

• Allow an employee to withdraw all wages they are owed at least once per pay period without being charged a fee to access their money.

• Allow an employee to choose to be paid in a different manner.

If you wish to file a complaint about payroll debit card abuse with the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, go to www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/file_complaint.

If you believe an employer is violating wage laws with payroll debit cards, you can file a "claim for wages" with Iowa Workforce Development at www.iowaworkforce.org/labor/wage.htm.

Over the last month, we've learned that more than $500,000 in taxpayer dollars have been paid in secret settlements since January 2011 to former state employees who were asked to sign confidentiality agreements.

After weeks of delay and denial, Governor Branstad finally fired a top administration official responsible for "hush money" payments. The Governor has also issued an executive order to end the use of confidentiality agreements, make employee settlements available to taxpayers and increase scrutiny of settlement agreements.

In the Legislature, we are taking our own steps to prevent this from happening again, including:

• Amending all state budget bills to ensure that no taxpayer money is used for secret settlements.

• Amending the Administration & Regulation Budget (SF 2342) to call for an independent audit of “hush money” and secret settlements. The State Auditor will review personnel settlement agreements with terminated state employees, especially the agreements made outside of normal channels. The audit will focus on "hush money" payments, where the money came from and those who authorized secret settlement agreements.

• Approving legislation on who qualifies as an "at-will employee" (SF 2244). In recent years, hundreds of merit employees have been converted to at-will employees. Unlike merit employees, at-will employees can be fired at any time and for any reason. Our legislation allows state employees who had been merit employees to retain their job as merit employees.

Senate Democrats take seriously the oversight of the state budget and taxpayers’ dollars. We expect the money we appropriate to agencies and programs to be used in an open and transparent way.

Iowans deserve housing that is affordable, safe, and high quality. House File 2448 seeks to increase good housing for middle-class families throughout the state by providing incentives to build and rehabilitate housing in the areas that need it the most.

In many areas across the state, older housing needs to be rehabilitated and repaired. In other areas, there may be a need for new construction in fast-growing communities. A new Workforce Housing Tax Credit program will encourage redevelopment of dilapidated housing, brownfield areas, and upper-story apartments in multi-use buildings, as well as new construction in communities with demonstrated workforce housing needs.

The Workforce Housing Tax Credit will provide two different incentives. The first is a refund of the sales and use taxes directly related to the housing project. The second is an investment tax credit up to 10 percent of the qualifying new investment in the housing project. The investment tax credit is nonrefundable but may be credited to the investor’s tax liability for five years.

Tax incentives will go to housing businesses that complete housing projects that meet specific requirements. For example, the project must be supported by the local community, receive matching funds, adhere to local safety standards, and meet the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development’s housing quality standards.

The Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) expects to do $700 million in roadwork this year, and cities and counties will have numerous projects as well. With temperatures finally warming up, those projects will be shifting into high gear.

For questions on specific projects in Johnson County, contact Doug McDonald at the Transportation District 6 office at 319-364-0235 or douglas.mcdonald@dot.iowa.gov.

During Work Zone Awareness Week (April 7-11), it's a good time for a refresher on how we should drive in the many construction zones that will be popping up across the state. Here are a few tips from the DOT that can improve safety for drivers and workers:

Pay attention to signs. Diamond-shaped orange warning signs are generally posted in advance of road construction projects.

• Expect the unexpected, such as changes in speed limits and traffic lanes, as well as people and equipment on the road.

• Slow down when directed. A car traveling 60 mph travels 88 feet per second. If you are going 60 mph and you pass a sign that reads “Road Work 1,500 feet,” you will be in that work zone in 17 seconds.

• Merge as soon as possible. Help maintain traffic flow and posted speeds by moving to the appropriate lane as quickly and safely as possible.

• Keep a safe distance from other vehicles, traffic barriers, construction equipment and workers.

• Expect delays. Leave early to reach your destination on time, or consider taking a detour to avoid the work zone entirely. You can find out where construction projects are taking place at www.iowadot.gov/travel.html.


Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa Run, Walk & Roll - Saturday
Join the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa for the annual Run Walk and Roll, Saturday April 12, at Terry Trueblood Recreation Area Park. Registration starts at 10 a.m. The 5K starts at 11 a.m. The Fun Run begins at 12 noon. Registration is $25 for adults; kids 12 and under participate free. The Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa (BIAIA) is a nonprofit organization that provides information and resources to individuals across the state of Iowa, promotes research and prevention of brain injuries, and provides education to all. The Run, Walk & Roll is an annual fundraiser to benefit Iowa citizens who have been affected by brain injuries. You can find out more here.

Iowa City hosting trout event Saturday at Sand Lake
A trout-stocking event at Sand Lake in Iowa City sponsored by Iowa City Parks Department is scheduled for April 12 at 10 a.m. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is stocking 1,800 rainbow and 200 brook trout. Prizes will be awarded to anglers catching one of the 200 tagged trout at the event. Contact Joyce Carroll at 319-356-5100 for more information.

Veterans career fair on April 24
A Veterans Career Fair is set for Thursday, April 24, at the Camp Dodge Freedom Center, 7105 NW 70 Avenue in Johnston. All active service members, veterans, and spouses are welcome to attend. Most of the participating employers will have current openings for immediate hiring.

The Veterans Career Fair will begin with a candidate support session from 9:30 to 11 a.m. This will include resume reviews, mock interviews, and coaching. A free lunch for Career Fair candidates follows, and from noon to 4 p.m., employers will receive applications and conduct interviews.

Dozens of employers in a variety of fields will be on hand. For more information, call 515-727-3442.

Iowa Climate Symposium – Saturday, April 26
The University of Iowa will host the Iowa Climate Festival on Saturday, April 26, at the Museum of Natural History in Iowa City.

The Iowa Climate Symposium (9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) will feature presentations by local climate experts about the basics of climate science and what a changing climate means for Iowa’s agriculture, public health and water sustainability. Distinguished speakers include Prof. Vicki Grassian (UI Department of Chemistry), Prof. Charles Stanier (UI Chemical & Biochemical Engineering), Marnie Stein (Iowa Department of Natural Resources), Dr. Jerry Hatfield (United States Department of Agriculture), Dr. Wanda Reiter-Kintz (State Hygienic Laboratory) and Prof. Jerry Schnoor (UI Civil & Environmental Engineering). All presentations will be geared toward a general audience and panel discussions will follow.

The afternoon Climate Science Fair (1:30-4 p.m.) is an opportunity for curious minds of all ages to learn about what makes a gas a greenhouse gas, how clouds form, how particles in the air cool the earth, what your carbon footprint means for the ocean and more. Explore pre-historic climates with Don Johnson (“The Fossil Guy”) from 2-3 p.m. through a 30-minute talk (geared toward elementary students) that will be followed by hands-on time with fossils and replicas. Bring your questions to local climate researchers and green chemists, learn how to reduce your environmental impact and enjoyn an ice cream social.

All events are free and open to the public. For free registration and more details, please visit the website.

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.