April 25, 2014

Week 14
LWV Forum Moved to May 3rd
Visitors to the Capitol
Apprenticeships & Job Training Expanding Middle Class
Help for Iowans in Time of Need
Protecting Seniors Abuse & Exploitation
More Sunshine Needed in State Government
Senate Takes First Steps to Limit Use of Drones
Tackling Underage Drinking in Iowa

I am writing from the State Capitol this morning as we head toward adjournment.

It has been a busy week of retirement speeches and budget bills. We are also working on several major pieces of legislation, including significantly reducing greyhound racing at tracks in Dubuque and Council Bluffs, and approving legislation allowing patients that suffer from intractable epilepsy safe, legal access to medical cannabis.

It was a very busy week.

Two of my favorite people in the Iowa Senate are retiring this year: Senator Dennis Black and Senator Jack Hatch. Both have had long, distinguished careers. Dennis has been a leader on all things conservation. He has worked hard to get the Legislature to invest more in REAP, soil conservation and water quality. That has been no easy task, but he has never wavered from it. Senator Jack Hatch deserves more credit than any other member of the Legislature over the past decade in making Iowa a healthier state. He has led our efforts to make sure every Iowan has access to health care insurance.

This week was finally the week to move a medical cannabis bill. SF 2360 moved out of the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday, and we brought it to the floor for full Senate consideration yesterday. The bill was approved on a vote of 36-12.

Got to run now to the Health & Human Services Budget Subcommittee to make some final decisions!

The final Johnson County League of Women Voters forum of the 2014 session has been re-scheduled to Saturday, May 3 (instead of April 26). Please join us at 9:30 a.m. at Iowa City Public Library Room A for a discussion of the issues.

Duncan Stewart
Kathrina Litchfield
Sorry if I missed you!

The 21st century economy needs workers with postsecondary credentials and the ability to adapt to changing business needs. Apprenticeship programs prepare thousands of workers to fit that bill every year.

Apprenticeships can help Iowans train in a trade, improve their skills, and get better-paying work. They are a proven way to prepare employees for a variety of occupations through a combination of supervised on-the-job training and technical classroom studies.

It’s estimated that by 2018, 62 percent of all jobs in Iowa — that’s 1.1 million jobs — will require some training or education beyond high school. By investing in apprenticeships and job training, we can ensure local employers have the skilled workers they need, while helping Iowans qualify for more rewarding careers that can build a better life for their families.

Over the years, Iowa's Apprenticeship Program has funded efforts to help Iowans boost their skills. In 2013, Iowa had 662 registered apprenticeship programs with more than 8,100 registered apprentices. Apprenticeships can lead to work in such industries as construction, manufacturing, transportation, telecommunications, information technology, biotechnology, retail, health care, utilities, and more.

The Iowa Senate recently approved SF 2353 to improve the state's Apprenticeship Program and increase funding to a total of $6 million for apprenticeships and specific worker training efforts at our community colleges. The amount of funding each business receives for the training they provide depends on the total number of businesses involved, the number of apprentices served and the hours of training.

To learn more about apprenticeship opportunities in Iowa for employers and individuals, go to www.iowaworkforce.org/apprenticeship.

A core Iowa value is taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. That's why the Iowa Senate voted April 21 for a Health & Human Services Budget that will improve the safety and quality of life for Iowa seniors, children and others who look to us for help.

House File 2463, as amended by the Senate, reverses Governor Branstad’s veto last year that stopped the hiring of two ombudsmen to protect the rights of seniors in nursing facilities. Iowa currently has only half the number of long-term care ombudsmen recommended in national best-practice standards.

Our Health & Human Services budget also provides state funding for local elder abuse support services for the first time. In addition, it will be easier for seniors to get the services needed to continue living in their own homes, rather than moving to expensive nursing facilities.

Every Iowan will benefit from a boost in funding to emergency medical service (EMS) providers. HF 2463 provides additional money for EMS training and an increase in the amount the state pays through the Medicaid program for local ambulance and other emergency services. Iowa’s rates are among the lowest in the country and significantly below those paid by private health insurance. Some Iowa communities will be in danger of losing EMS services if providers are unable to recoup their costs.

The Senate's Health & Human Services Budget also helps children and at-risk Iowans by:

• Expanding childcare assistance to more parents who are working part time while getting professional training or continuing education.

• Improving the lives of children and adults by increasing at-home access to specialized health and support services.

• Reestablishing a State Training School at Toledo to provide necessary help and care for Iowa’s most troubled young girls.

• Protecting Iowa’s redesigned mental health services by fully funding state commitments.

The House and Senate have begun meeting to discuss differences in our proposals and negotiate a final Health & Human Services Budget that will best help those in need.

Across the country, thousands of older Americans face abuse, neglect, and exploitation every year. Many of these older victims are particularly vulnerable because they depend on others to help them with the most basic activities of daily living.

Senate Democrats have worked this session to establish a comprehensive system to prevent elder abuse, provide community support, offer legal options when intervention is necessary, and prosecute those who commit elder abuse. These items were included in SF 2239, which the Senate passed unanimously on March 4. When the Iowa House took up the bill, however, they removed elder abuse support and intervention services that would have been provided in local communities by the Aging & Disability Resource Centers.

Fortunately, there is still time to make progress. The Senate has now approved an amendment to SF 2239 that defines elder abuse and financial exploitation of an elder, allows victims of elder abuse to secure protective orders to stop the abuse, and authorizes criminal penalties for financial exploitation.

This will build on protections approved earlier this session in the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, which has already been signed into law. According to Iowa AARP, it is the most important thing we can do to fight financial abuse of elders.

SF 2168 specifically addresses financial exploitation of Iowa seniors, which often occurs at the hands of family members or caretakers. Based on recommendations of Iowa's Elder Abuse Task Force, the Iowa Uniform Power of Attorney Act will help prevent and detect power of attorney abuse.

Many seniors give a power of attorney to someone they trust so that person can make financial decisions on their behalf, including managing their money, paying their bills and purchasing necessities. Power of attorney is exercised responsibly among most Iowans. Unfortunately, there is growing evidence of unethical people who prey on vulnerable seniors, stealing from them and abusing their power.

The Government Oversight Committee in the Senate has approved Senate Study Bill 3221, a thoughtful response to recent revelations of hush money payments in employee settlements, questionable hiring practices, and the treatment of whistleblowers.

Bipartisan investigations have revealed serious shortcomings in state government accountability. Our goal is to craft a comprehensive response that gets to the root of what we’ve learned so far. SSB 3221 will:

• Ban secret settlements and hush money payments in all of state government.

• Expand protections for state employees and others who blow the whistle on wrongful activity.

• Require the State Auditor to investigate previous secret settlements.

• Prevent no-bid contracts on state jobs.

• Outlaw cronyism in hiring state employees.

• Mandate disclosure of state worker bonuses.

• Restrict, reform and establish due process in the use of the state “do-not-hire” database.

This legislation makes sense because our constituents are telling us that state government needs more sunshine, more accountability, more whistleblower protections, and a solid rededication to clean government.

To address growing concerns by Iowans over the potential misuse of unmanned aerial vehicles — also known as drones — the Iowa Senate approved legislation to restrict their use by law enforcement agencies.

As amended, House File 2289 would protect the privacy of our citizens while providing law enforcement the tools necessary to gather evidence in a responsible manner. Specifically, the legislation would prohibit the use of drones by law enforcement for traffic enforcement. The bill does allow a law enforcement agency to use a drone to gather admissible evidence for a criminal or civil case only after securing a warrant or if its efforts are consistent with state and federal laws.

In addition, the legislation requires the Iowa Department of Public Safety to convene a group, including state and local entities, to determine whether the Iowa criminal code should be modified to regulate the use of drones, and to develop model guidelines for their use.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a good time to learn more about the dangers of underage drinking.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among youth nationally and in Iowa. Sixteen percent of eighth graders in Iowa report drinking alcohol before turning 13 years old, and more than one in four high school juniors have consumed alcohol in the last 30 days.

In 2012, more than 200 Iowans under the age of 18 were convicted of operating while intoxicated when they drove after drinking. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. About a quarter of those accidents involve an underage drinking driver.

Teens that drink are more likely to:

• Die in a car crash

• Get pregnant

• Flunk out of school

• Be sexually assaulted

• Become an alcoholic later in life

• Commit suicide

To help tackle these concerns, the Legislature approved "social host" legislation this session.

Although it is currently illegal to provide alcohol to anyone under 21, it is not against the law to host a party for underage drinkers on your property if you don’t provide the alcohol. Many cities and counties have ordinances that prohibit hosting parties for underage drinkers, but state law has not prohibited it.

That’s why the Senate recently passed SF 2310, which sends a message that it is not OK for adults to host underage drinking parties. Adults who allow kids under 18 to consume or possess alcohol on their property will pay a $200 penalty for the first offense and a $500 penalty for a second or subsequent offense.

For parents who believe that teen drinking is inevitable, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has advice and resources that will help you talk to your children and grandchildren about the dangers of drinking. Learn more at www.madd.org/underage-drinking.

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.