The Behn Report

Sen Jerry Behn, (R) Boone

Feb. 17, 2017

In the Legislature It’s been a busy week as we did a couple bills on the floor for debate, and had several bills moving through our subcommittees and committees. Apart from the bigger bills, there are also smaller things we look at during the session. Here are a few bills that have generated some interest at the Capitol, but haven’t been in the headlines. 

  • SSB 1020: Under current law, a person is prohibited from letting a vehicle stand unattended without first stopping the engine. This law means for many people who already have remote starters for their cars, using those was technically illegal. The bill now permits a person to leave a vehicle unattended while the engine is running. The bill takes an old, outdated law, first enacted in 1913, off the books. There were only 6 citations issued for these violations in 2016. If the law is no longer necessary, then we need to get rid of it.
  • SSB 1037: This bill allows motorists to make a right or left hand turn from the second lane from the curb if it is designated as a lane for right or left turns.   This bill allows you to turn into the outside lane on a left turn from a one-way street onto a one-way street. Cities are still able to put up signs which would prohibit turns from the furthest lane from the curb if they believe it is a safety concern.
  • SF 77: This bill passed unanimously through the Human Resources committee this week. It directs the Department of Public Health to adopt rules that require a facility performing mammography services to include information on breast density in reports sent to patients in accordance with federal law and rules. This would allow women with dense breast tissue to be made aware of early warning signs.

Restoring local control & flexibility: This week we have been continuing debate on collective bargaining reform. This law has remained unaddressed for more than 40 years and during that time it has become clear it was an area of needed modernization.

Throughout the legislative process we listened to Iowans who expressed concern about the bill. The legislative process is designed to generate input from Iowans regarding legislation being considered by the Iowa Senate. As a result of this process, we supported a number of updates to the initial proposal regarding collective bargaining reform.

Some of those updates include retaining proper cause for termination of public employees in law. Grievances, seniority, and release time will be permissible subjects for employees and employers to negotiate. The bill will ensure specific portions of public employees are included in collective bargaining units to ensure no federal funding will be lost. Finally, it ensures employees are able to take their employment claims to district court if they deem it necessary among a number of other updates made based on feedback from Iowans on the reform package.

The amendments made to this bill will not change the broader goal of this legislation. To be clear, this bill is a reform of state government. It changes the way Iowa does business. It significantly increases local control for cities, counties, and schools. It provides taxpayers a seat at the table and will allow local officials the ability to implement innovative solutions, specific to their communities.

Texting and driving: The issue of texting and driving has been discussed a few times in the Capitol before. There is another bill this year, SSB 1002, that would make texting while driving a primary offense.

Currently, texting while driving is a secondary offense, which means you cannot be pulled over solely for texting and driving. There must be another violation to cause the officer to pull the person over, and texting while driving can be added on as an additional charge.

This bill also has many vocal supporters and those in opposition. Those in support of it say the bill will increase safety by reducing the amount of distracted drivers on Iowa roads because officers would no longer have to wait for another violation before pulling someone over to enforce this law.

There are several arguments being made to expand the bill. Some say it doesn’t go far enough to address the change in phone technology and phones can be distracting in many different ways, such as taking videos, photos, using the GPS, playing video games, etc. Some also say it is difficult for an officer to prove a person was texting and driving as opposed to using their phones for something else, like using their phone’s GPS.

I have also heard people do not want to be told what they can and cannot do in their vehicles. The legislative process will allow all parties to voice their concerns and address the issue of texting and driving.

Health insurance: There was a push by Senate Republicans in recent years to vote on legislation requiring lawmakers to pay 20 percent of their health care premiums.  However, it was not a priority for Senate Democrats.

When the 2017 Legislative session convened, 92 of 149 lawmakers paid only $20 each month for the health insurance.  Considering the private sector and other state employees pay more on a monthly basis for their health care premiums, Senate Republicans wanted to address this in a timely fashion this session because a dialogue never occurred in recent years.

In 2013, Senator Breitbach authored Senate File 137 which would have required lawmakers to pay 20 percent of the health care plan they selected. However, a subcommittee meeting was never convened. This was similar to the action of Senators Whitver and Kapucian in 2012 when they filed Senate File 2207. Again, a subcommittee was not scheduled.

Under a new Senate Republican majority, Senate File 230 passed unanimously on the Senate floor. Senate File 230 requires members of the General Assembly and full-time legislative branch employees to pay 20 percent of the total premium cost for health insurance. This impacts 395 individuals. These individuals would be eligible for a $111 reduction in their monthly premium if they participate in a Premium Wellness Reduction Program.

This bill is effective upon enactment, but only applies once the new enrollment period takes effect next January. However, any new full-time employees would pay 20 percent of their premiums when they begin their employment in the legislative branch.

As always, I want to hear from you.  My senate number is (515) 281-3371 and my home number is (515) 432-7327 or write me at:  State Capitol, Des Moines, IA  50319 or at my home address:  1313 Quill Avenue, Boone, IA  50036 or email me at jerry.behn [at] legis [dot] iowa [dot] gov.

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