The Behn Report

Sen Jerry Behn, (R) Boone

In the Legislature, March 17, 2017

On Wednesday, March 15, Iowans recognized Canada Day at the Capitol. Andrew Leslie, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs for the Canadian Parliament, visited the Iowa House and Senate, along with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. Mr. Leslie spoke about the importance of strong US-Canada relations and growing trade between Iowa and Canada, adding that the trade is growing, fair, and supports innovation.

Canada is Iowa’s largest trading partner, and the relationship supports over 100,000 Iowa jobs.  Iowa’s exports to Canada are largely made up of agricultural products including machinery, fresh and frozen meat, and animal feed. Iowa products made up $3.4 billion dollars in exports to Canada in 2016, and in return, Iowa imported $2.5 billion dollars in products from Canada.

We introduced and passed a resolution honoring Canada Day on March 15. The resolution endorses the strong and balanced trade relations between Iowa and Canada, as well as shared values of liberty and justice. The resolution also advocates for expanding trade relationships and exchanges in agriculture, innovation, culture, and academia.

We also passed several bills on the floor this week. Some of these include:

·         House File 203, allowing primary road funds to be allocated to secondary and municipal road systems in exchange for retaining all or a portion of federal aid road funds that would otherwise be allocated to counties and cities.This bill helps increase the efficiency of the planning and construction of city and county roads by eliminating federal requirements that are attached when federal money is used. This change could save our cities and counties 15-20 percent on road and bridge projects, thus allowing them to complete more projects. The counties and cities still receive the same total amount of money, just state dollars instead of federal dollars. This bill does not mandate or require the swap of money. It allows the commission to do the swap if they believe it is beneficial. The bill passed 26-21.

·         Senate File 447 protects our state’s livestock producers. This bill is providing an affirmative defense and a cap on compensatory damages for animal feeding operations provided the operation complies with applicable federal or state statutes or regulations, uses existing reasonable management practices, and the owner is not a habitual environmental violator. This bill passed the Senate 31-18.

·         Senate File 404, known as the ‘Right to Try’ bill, allows a person with a terminal illness to have a shot at trying a medicine that could potentially save their life when all other treatments have failed. Eligible patients have a terminal illness, have tried and failed all other treatment options approved by the FDA, have a recommendation from their physician for a drug or product, have given informed, written consent, and have documentation from their doctor stating the individual meets these requirements. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

·         Senate File 250 establishes a notification requirement for mammogram reports to patients (formerly SF 77). The bill 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. This means patients will be notified of concerns about dense breast tissue that may allow for earlier detection of breast cancer. This bill passed unanimously in the Senate.

·         The Senate also passed Senate File 471 (originally SF 53), the 20-week abortion bill. The bill removes the ban of abortions after the second trimester and replaces it with a ban of 20 weeks. There is an exception for up to 24 weeks when, in the best clinical judgment of the physician, the human pregnancy has a fetal anomaly incompatible with life. This bill passed on the Senate floor with bipartisan support 32-17.

·         Senate File 472 increases the percentage of money that may be granted from the snowmobile fund to the snowmobile association from 50 percent to 70 percent.  In exchange, the snowmobile association will assume more of the responsibility for maintaining the public snowmobile trails in the state. The bill passed the Senate 49-0.

·         Senate File 333 addresses what happens to digital assets, like Facebook, upon death of the user. While sites like these are starting to come up with their own rules and settings for when something happens, the bill acts as a default if there is no person designated to deal with these digital assets. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

I have also been receiving a lot of messages regarding the gun bill sent over from the House. While the bill is still going through the legislative process here in the Senate, it is nice to finally be having these conversations with our colleagues. In the past, rarely have bills regarding firearms and the Second Amendment been brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

The bill, House File 517, is making changes to firearms laws in Iowa. This is a big bill and will take some time to go through while we have these discussions. It took the first steps in the Senate process this week.

The bill has thirteen different divisions. A few of them involve:

·         Removing the state prohibition on short-barreled rifles and shot guns

·         Allowing private investigators and security officers who are licensed and have a permit to carry to carry on school property while engaged in performance of their duties

·         Making it a serious misdemeanor to carry a dangerous weapon while under the influence

·         Updating permit to carry language

·         Requiring firearms safety training when a new permit to carry is issued

·         Strikes the minimum age for a person to possess a handgun while under the supervision of a parent or guardian

·         Prohibiting the governor and political subdivisions from revoking firearms rights in a state of emergency

·         Allowing a person to use reasonable force if they have a reasonable belief the force is necessary to avoid injury or death to themselves or others. There is no duty to retreat

·         Allowing a person riding a snowmobile or ATV to carry a pistol or revolver without a retention holster

Treating the state budget like the family budget

This week, the Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference projected a reduction of state revenues for fiscal year 2017 of $131 million. While we learned our economy continues to grow, with the price of corn, soybeans, and other commodities continuing to remain below the cost of production for Iowa farmers, our state revenues have lagged. This makes it even more important we focus on policies promoting growth all across Iowa. Considering cuts we already were forced to make this year, as required by Iowa law, additional cuts are not a reasonable solution. We only have a few months left in this fiscal year and any further cuts would cripple our schools, public safety, and many other essential services.

The state will be dipping into the reserve funds to fill the budget gap for the rest of the fiscal year. Refilling this account will be a top priority in our ongoing budgeting process. Our goal has always been to treat the state budget like the family budget. If we are using our savings account to help pay our bills and necessary expenses, we want to be sure we fill that savings account back up as soon as possible.

As we move forward in setting our budget for the next fiscal year, we want to continue looking at all aspects of government spending and how we will spend the taxpayer’s dollar wisely. We want to look at tax credits, and how we can streamline government services, in our quest to put our state on better financial footing and responsible budgeting.

REC, Tax Credits, and Growth

The Revenue Estimating Conference this week indicated revenues for this fiscal year and next fiscal year are reduced significantly from their prior expectations. This news highlights the importance of Senate Republican’s goal of implementing policies that will spur economic growth. Growth in the economy increases state revenues because more people are working, spending, and paying taxes.

Iowa’s tax code is extraordinarily complicated. It contains nine different tax brackets, approximately 40 different tax credit programs and one of the highest tax rates in the Midwest. It is a barrier to growth. It limits the ability of job creators to grow and expand career opportunities for Iowans. A symptom of that uncompetitive tax code is the proliferation of tax credits to ease the burden on some businesses. However, businesses that are not as fortunate to have a special tax credit are left to pay the bill for those tax credits provided to other businesses.

A few years ago Illinois passed a 67 percent income tax increase to only later pass tens of millions of dollars in special tax relief for Sears, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and other huge corporations just so they would not leave the state. Raising taxes on everyone else to make special arrangements for the privileged is anti-growth and reduces the competitiveness of the state.

We have a vision for the state that includes job growth and making Iowa an attractive place to do business. The tax code should be simple and easy to understand for anyone and everyone. Small businesses, responsible for 75 percent of job growth, are currently left behind in an uncompetitive tax structure while big businesses hire lobbyists and lawyers to get more tax credits. These businesses that are so crucial to our communities and towns need tax policy that will allow them to remain competitive with the big businesses and hire more of the help they need.

Senate Republicans are committed to lowering the tax rates in Iowa, reducing the mess of tax credits, and expanding the tax base. Less social engineering in the tax code allows for more efficient allocation of capital. A simpler, fairer tax code creates an environment that encourages growth without the prospect of the state cutting checks to a few winners, while punishing the losers with an uncompetitive tax climate.

99 Percent Expenditure limit

Anticipated state revenue growth failed to meet expectations, once again, we learned this week.  The Revenue Estimating Conference, which forecasts state revenues for budgeting purposes, announced an anticipated shortfall of $138 million in the current year budget. This news comes after the legislature made more than $118 million in cuts in January to the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

Senate Republicans have stressed the importance of reining in the unprecedented levels of spending in recent years as the state budget eclipsed the $7 billion mark.

One of the first five bills we introduced in January was a provision that would add the 99 percent expenditure limitation to the state constitution. Though state law does require the legislature to spend no more than 99 percent of anticipated revenues for the next fiscal year, this amendment to the Iowa Constitution would help ensure the state meets its financial obligations.

Why is a constitutional amendment necessary if this practice is currently in the Iowa Code? The legislature circumvented the 99 percent expenditure limitation three times (FY 2006, 2007, and 2009) when it used the March REC estimate, which was more than the December estimate.

Senate Joint Resolution 9 cracks down on spending by capping the growth, prohibiting the legislature from circumventing the law, and by eliminating the surplus from calculation of the expenditure limitation.

Putting the 99 percent expenditure limit into the state constitution also limits the increase in spending from year to year. This legislation allows state spending to grow by 4 percent more than the previous year’s net revenue estimate, which places spending more in line with historic revenue growth.

Approving this bill can give Iowans the sense of certainty they desire when it comes to investing in our state and creating jobs. It also provides much-needed predictability for our budget and helps avoid financial situations like we currently face.

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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