April 18, 2014

Week 14
Public Forum on April 26
Visitors to the Capitol
IC Receives Arts Grants
Helping More Iowa Kids Benefit from Preschool
Justice Budget Strengthens Public Safety
Budgeting to Protect our Natural Resources
Property Tax Credit for Disabled Veterans
Healthy Iowans Report Shows Progress

Happy Easter!

It was another busy week at the Capitol. The 100th day of this legislative session is coming up next Tuesday. It is the day we are scheduled to adjourn. It looks like we have at least two more weeks of work ahead. Most of the budget bills are moving through the process. The Senate passed the Ag & Natural Resources bill yesterday. It funds our environmental protection, conservation and agriculture programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Health & Human Services budget yesterday.

The Governor’s problems continued this week with more revelations about interference with hiring decisions and continued difficulty getting to the bottom of who approved the hush money payments to fired workers. Here is a link to the story from yesterday’s Oversight Committee meeting. The Oversight Committee also met on Tuesday. Here is a link to video of all of the questions and testimony. It is a lot to watch.

What is clear is that competent employees who oversaw millions in state construction contracts were fired. They were replaced with cronies of Governor Branstad’s without any of the positions being advertised. It looks like the work may have been handed over to people friendly to the construction companies they are supposed to oversee. At some point, the Oversight Committee will need to hear from Brenna Findley, the Governor’s Legal Counsel, Dave Roederer, director of the Department of Management, and former Chief of Staff, Jeff Boeyink. They are (or were) the brains behind all of these decisions made on behalf of Governor Branstad.

Education funding has become a big issue at the Capitol this week. The House Republicans singled out the University of Iowa for a $4 million cut for next year. This cut jeopardizes the tuition freeze agreement among the Board of Regents, the Legislature and the Governor. Senate Democrats will work to restore this funding.

We have also struggled with local school funding since Governor Branstad returned to office. He and House Republicans have underfunded our local schools for next year. They have also refused to set the funding level for our local K-12 schools for the 2015-2016 school year. This is causing layoffs and program cuts in school districts across the state. I am extremely concerned about the cuts proposed in Iowa City Community Schools. We are failing our kids by not providing adequate funding for our local schools.

I ran a bill, SF 3250, this week to give workers a choice if they want to be paid with a payroll debit card or not. The use of these cards by low-wage employers is increasing, and they take money though fees and charges from hard-working Iowans every time they access their own money. Here is a link to a story and details about the legislation. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate.

President Obama spoke last Friday at the annual convention of the National Action Network, a nonprofit group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. The President said people need to put aside distrust and frustration with politics and get to the polls. “We can’t use cynicism as an excuse not to participate.”

When talking about the national effort to make it harder for Americans to vote, Obama said, “This recent effort to restrict the vote has not been led by both parties. It’s been led by the Republican Party. If your strategy depends on having fewer people showing up to vote, that’s not a sign of strength. That’s a sign of weakness. And not only it is ultimately bad politics, ultimately it is bad for the country.”

Next Saturday, April 26, is the final Johnson County League of Women Voters Forum of the 2014 session. Please join us at 9:30 a.m. at Iowa City Public Library Room A for a discussion of the issues.

On Thursday, students from Longfellow Elementary School visited the state Capitol. It was a fantastic opportunity for the students to learn about their state government. The students, teachers and parents had a tour of the Capitol and spent time in the Senate Chambers. I think we had a couple of future state legislators in the group of students!

Mr. Benton’s 5th grade class.

Ms. Nichols’s 4th grade class.

Ms. Rocca’s 4th grade class.

The Iowa Arts Council has approved Project Grants for artists and organizations in Iowa City, including:

• Chris Mortenson - Iowa Wilderness: From Remnant to the Accidental, $6,225. Chris Mortenson will create a photographic documentary series exploring Iowa’s remaining natural prairies, restored prairies and new "wildness" areas across the state.

• Loyce Arthur - 2014 Carnival Arts Public Engagement Project, $10,000. Loyce Arthur, in collaboration with other artists, will translate stories from Iowans into costumes, masks and puppets to be used in dance concerts, community workshops and the 2014 Iowa City Carnival Parade.

• International Annual Russian Guitar Festival, $10,000. The money will be used for the annual Russian guitar festival, which includes public concerts and master classes in Iowa City, Coralville and Cedar Rapids presented by international and Iowa artists.

I was proud to support an initiative this week to help more Iowa kids get a good start on their education with high-quality preschool.

In 2007, Iowa established an excellent statewide voluntary preschool program for four-year-olds, but there just aren't enough spots for all the kids who want to attend. Many school districts maintain waiting lists, but others may simply turn away students once they are full. In addition, some school districts—34 during the 2012-13 school year—do not even participate in Iowa's statewide program.

SF 2351 will help meet the demand among Iowa families who want to send their 4-year-olds to preschool. The bill will increase enrollment and eliminate waiting lists by providing a $1,200 per-pupil incentive for each student that a school adds to their program over the next three years. The bill will also expand eligible expenses for private preschools and encourage outreach to families who could benefit from Iowa's preschool offerings.

Children who attend a good preschool benefit from early reading and math education. A 2013 report by Iowa's Child & Family Policy Center found that kids who attend preschool are more proficient readers by third grade than those who don't go to preschool.

Expanding the availability of preschool will be particularly beneficial to minority students and kids from low-income families. Reports show that fewer students from low-income families who attend preschool require intensive intervention after they enter kindergarten. The children were less likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, need special education, or get into trouble with the law.

By the fall of 2012, almost 21,500 Iowa preschoolers (55 percent) in 314 school districts were getting the benefits of our statewide program, which provides at least 10 hours per week of age-appropriate instruction. SF 2351 will now help get even more of Iowa's 41,000 preschool-aged kids into the classroom if their families want to send them.

This week, the Senate voted to appropriate more than $554 million to ensure safety for Iowans and communities throughout the state by adequately funding our prisons, our courts, the Department of Public Safety, the Attorney General, and other agencies and functions of our justice system.

As approved by the Senate, this year's Justice Budget (House File 2450) provides extra money to the Department of Corrections to hire more prison guards. Additional guards will help keep the staff and public safe by maintaining control and preventing escapes.

The Justice Budget also invests in Iowa’s successful Drug Courts, which reduce crime by teaching offenders how to stay off drugs and become responsible, contributing members of society. Participants are held accountable for their behavior and must adhere to the strict rules of the program or go straight to prison. Drug Courts also save taxpayer dollars. Each offender who participates in Drug Court saves thousands in tax dollars each year.

Consistent with the Governor’s recommendation, the Senate's Justice Budget also provides full funding for victims’ assistance grants. The House failed to approve adequate funding for these grants, which go to programs that assist victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Last year, these programs helped more than 27,000 Iowans find safe housing, seek counseling, get jobs and learn how to escape from an abusive relationship.

We also voted to put more state troopers on Iowa highways. More patrol officers make for safer roads and quicker response times when someone needs assistance, whether it is responding to an accident, a crime, or a simple breakdown.

The foundation of Iowa’s economy and way of life is rooted in our abundant natural resources. Our rich soils, plentiful water, and other natural assets make Iowa a great place for agriculture and offer residents a good quality of life. An investment in protecting our natural resources is an investment in Iowa's future.

The Agriculture & Natural Resources Budget (HF 2458) funds state programs that enhance Iowa agriculture, natural resources and environment. The Legislature voted last year to improve Iowa’s water, environment, and recreational opportunities through programs and partnerships with farmers, landowners and communities. It was a banner year for our state's natural resources. This year, we continue to build on that success.

HF 2458 provides an additional $2 million for the Water Quality Initiative we approved in 2013. The effort is implementing science- and technology-based measures on our farms and in our cities to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus making their way into our lakes and streams. New money will allow more urban and rural landowners to participate in the Water Quality Initiative, and will be used to educate Iowans about ways to improve our soil and water.

For those interested in learning what steps they can take—whether on the farm, at a business, or in a home—a one-stop shop for water quality conservation is available at www.CleanWaterIowa.org. The site includes descriptions of water quality practices, their benefits, and links to additional information.

This year's Agriculture & Natural Resources Budget also continues funding for Iowa’s state parks and natural areas. These places provide recreational opportunities and showcase our state’s natural heritage. After many lean years, we gave state parks a boost in funding in 2013. This allowed for much-needed maintenance and infrastructure improvements. We are continuing that support to ensure our parks and natural areas remain places of pride and outdoor activity for Iowans.

The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that there are 2,754 Iowa veterans who are 100 percent disabled; 60 percent of them own their home. In an effort to assist those who have served and sacrificed, the Iowa Senate has unanimously voted to expand the Disabled Veterans Homestead Tax Credit.

Under current law, the tax credit goes to disabled veterans who have an annual income of $35,000 or less and have acquired their home through certain federal programs for special adaptive housing because of a service-connected disability. Senate File 2352 would make the tax credit available to any eligible veteran with a permanent and total disability due to service-related injuries regardless of income and how the home was purchased. The bill also extends the credit to surviving spouses or children of troops killed in action or who died because of service-related illness or injury, as certified by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The legislation is now under consideration in the Iowa House.

On April 14, the Iowa Senate recognized this year's extraordinary accomplishments of Coach Fred Hoiberg and the Iowa State University men’s basketball team. Kris Bell and I are pictured here with Coach Hoiberg. The ISU team had one of its best years in recent memory, winning the Big 12 championship, advancing to the NCAA tournament, and getting knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen by the eventual champions, the University of Connecticut. Congratulations, Cyclones, for making Iowa proud.


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.

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.