The Behn report

Sen Jerry Behn, (R) Boone

April 7, 2017

This week had a lot of floor debate due to the second funnel concluding last week. We have been working on bills coming over from the House and discussing the budget for the next fiscal year. A few of the bills we passed include:

  • HF 485, allowing city council members to serve a city’s volunteer fire department in any position or capacity. It clarifies in code that city council members can serve as volunteer firefighters at any level. This bill makes a change to code adopted in the early 1900s and will help rural areas where they need volunteer firefighters and city council members are willing to serve.

  • HF 410, putting Palmer amaranth on the noxious weed list. Palmer amaranth is an invasive species that lowers crop yields.  It has been discovered in at least 48 counties. This classification prohibits the import, sale, or distribution of the plant or its seeds in the state. County weed commissioners have the authority to enter land in certain circumstances and to order a landowner to destroy the noxious weed on their property, and to keep roads clear of noxious weeds. County boards of supervisors or weed commissioners have to cooperate with the USDA and FSA in adopting and carrying out weed control programs. This bill is intended to give broader authority to control Palmer amaranth and still ensure farmers are not forced into violation of their CRP contracts by county boards of supervisors or weed commissioners.
  • HF 463, expanding the authority of motor vehicle enforcement officers (MVE) passed 41-9. This bill explicitly expands their authority to “enforce all laws of the state.”  The bill states MVE officers’ primary duties shall be to enforce federal motor carrier safety regulations, operating authority of semis and busses, regulation of commercial vehicles, enforcement of traffic and safety laws on operators of commercial vehicles, enforcement of other activities for the motor carrier safety assistance program and high priority program (MCSAP), investigation and enforcement of matters entrusted to the DOT, and enforcement of motor vehicle laws.

It was great seeing former senators in the chamber this week as they returned to the Statehouse for the Pioneer Lawmaker celebration.

The Pioneer Lawmaker event is held every General Assembly to honor lawmakers, legislative staff, and reporters for their service and contribution to our great state. This year we honored those legislators whose first session was 1997.

This is a ceremony I enjoy attending because it recognizes these dedicated civil servants who worked so hard to make our great state even better.

The ceremony was held Wednesday in the Iowa House during a joint session of the legislature. On Wednesday night, the Iowa Senate played host to the 50th Memorial Service, which recognized former lawmakers who have passed away. This event was well attended by current and past legislators and the family members of those recognized and honored.

Restoring your constitutional rights: The gun omnibus bill, House File 517, was debated in the Senate this week. This piece of legislation has been worked on for a long time by legislators, constituents, and interested parties. Many long hours have been spent going over the language and provisions. For years, we have been waiting to have debates regarding the Second Amendment on the Senate floor, but were rarely given the opportunity. This year, we were finally able to make these reforms and take the first step in ensuring every Iowan’s Second Amendment right.

The bill makes several changes to a variety of firearms laws in Iowa. A few of these include striking the state prohibition on short-barreled rifles and shotguns, allowing private investigators and security officers who are licensed and have a permit to carry to do so on school property while engaged in performance of their duties (like peace officers, who are already allowed to do this), and allowing pistols and revolvers to be carried in the Capitol building and surrounding grounds and parking lots by Iowans with a concealed carry permit. The pistol or revolver must be concealed and the carrier must comply with all other state laws.

It also makes it a serious misdemeanor to carry a dangerous weapon while under the influence, states a permit to acquire weapons will be valid for five years, strikes the minimum age for a person to possess a handgun while under the supervision of a parent or guardian, and requires the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the issuing officer to keep personally identifiable information of nonprofessional permit holders private. The release of this information requires a court order or consent of the permit holder. The bill also allows a person riding a snowmobile or ATV to carry a pistol or revolver without a retention holster and it protects property owners in unincorporated areas from noise complaints if they are lawfully shooting firearms on their property.

Additionally, the bill also puts into Iowa Code a ‘Stand Your Ground’ provision. I have received many emails and phone calls about this part of the bill. This policy says a person may use reasonable force, including deadly 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. This provision also includes immunity from criminal and civil liability.

Reasonable force is defined as a force that is no more, than a reasonable person in a like circumstance, would judge to be necessary, to prevent an injury or loss and can include deadly force, if reasonable to avoid injury or risk to one’s life, or the life or safety of another (which is current law). Reasonable force, including deadly force, may be used even if an alternative course of action is available, if the action entails a risk to life or safety, or that of a third party.

This bill passed the Senate 33-17. Passing this legislation on the floor of the Senate was a big step forward for our state. If you have questions about the bill, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Creating an environment for economic growth: Senate Republicans have spent much of the 2017 Legislative session rolling back burdensome regulations and modernizing old legislation to create an environment of economic growth in our state for job creators.

Agriculture plays a significant role in Iowa’s economy. With low commodity prices, the ag sector in Iowa has struggled in recent years. This is evidenced with recent budget projections. State revenues have fallen short of expectations. It is imperative we create a climate that promotes growth on our Main Streets in our rural communities and metro areas.

Not every piece of legislation that helps our job creators draws front page news coverage or results in the addition of hundreds of jobs overnight. However, over time the bills we pass today can have a lasting effect for years to come in our state.

We passed a couple of bills of this nature this week in the Iowa Senate. House File 441 passed 47-3 in the Senate. This bill changes an old law on the books that stated teenagers under the age of 18 were not allowed to operate commercial laundry equipment. HF 441 changed state law to not allowing workers under 16 years old to operate the laundry equipment.

House File 533 addresses disqualification from eligibility for unemployment benefits. There is language in the bill that would disqualify someone from receiving benefits if they are incarcerated. The bill passed on a 42-8 vote this week in the Senate. It keeps unemployment benefits fair and equitable and that lowers costs for job creators, which allows them to invest more in their businesses and communities.

Growing Iowa’s economy is important to Senate Republicans and this is something we pledge to continue in the Iowa Senate.

State budget begins to take shape:
This week Senate Republicans released our budget targets for the upcoming state fiscal year. These targetsare the first step in determining how the expected tax dollars Iowans send to their state government are spent. The targets are an outline of the budget and they give the different budget areas the amount of money available to spend for the next fiscal year.

This year House and Senate Republicans plan to spend $7.245 billion. These funds cover everything from public university spending and K-12 education to state troopers and fuel pump inspectors. This budget is $14 million lower than last year and represents our commitment to funding the priorities of Iowans. Earlier this session, we allocated $40.1 million in new spending on Iowa public schools. This budget keeps that promise even after revenue projections continued to decline.

The budget outline also acknowledges the reality of the state’s current revenue situation. Revenue projections have been lowered for the last five consecutive estimates. A cautious and conservative approach to spending state dollars is more important now than ever. Mid-year budget cuts are especially challenging to schools and state agencies because they have no chance to plan for lower budget commitments made by the legislature. Realistic funding promises limit the need for those even more difficult choices next year.

We will not pass a budget that is not balanced. We will not make reckless budgeting decisions in the face of consistently declining revenue, and we will operate the state budget like the family budget. When revenue is lower than expected, spending needs to be lower as well.

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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