The Behn Report

Jerry Behn (R), Boone

February 8, 2019

The attention of many Iowans was focused on the work being done in the Senate this week. Several key issues being discussed this legislative session began to work their way through the process and have been the topic of many discussions at the Capitol.

A judicial subcommittee advanced SJR 9, a constitutional amendment that would prevent unelected judges from writing a right to an abortion into the Iowa constitution. If SJR 9 is passed by the General Assembly in two successive legislative sessions, and a majority of Iowans, then the legislature would determine whether abortion could be allowed in the state, not the courts.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court prohibits states from banning abortions under the U.S. Constitution, Iowa would be in a position to let elected officials make that decision if a change is made at a federal level.

A subcommittee was held Wednesday to discuss four sports wagering bills moving through the Senate. The purpose of this meeting was to gather input on how, and if, Iowa should pursue legalizing sports wagering. There are many interested parties on the bills and it will be interesting to see how this issue progresses.

Giving more Iowans a voice – In the past few weeks, you may have heard about proposed changes to the way judges are selected in Iowa. This week, a bill addressing some changes in this system was filed and is currently going through the legislative process in both the House and Senate.

The following is background information on how we arrived at our current situation. In 1962, Iowa voters ratified a merit-based judicial selection system, meaning there is a commission that makes recommendations to the governor on candidates to fill judicial vacancies. Also ratified at that time was a conditional date of 1973, at which point in time the Legislature was empowered to revisit the issue and determine if the system needed to be amended. However, 1973 passed and the Legislature never took another look at the subject, meaning a reexamination of the current system is long overdue.

Judicial nominating commissions are made up of 17 members. Currently, eight of those members are citizens appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate, and eight are appointed by the Iowa Bar (with no confirmation by the Legislature). Additionally, the senior presiding judge is the chair and oversees the commission.

There are over 3 million people in Iowa and approximately 10,000 lawyers, mostly in urban areas. This creates an unequal process where essentially lawyers elect their own lawyers without the application and nomination process that the 3 million other people in Iowa have to go through. This new proposal does not change Iowa from a merit-based system and does not move the state towards electing judges, but it simply changes the makeup of the commission members, how they are chosen, and gives a greater voice to all Iowans.

The bill is still in the early stages in the Senate and is likely to see some changes as it moves through committee, but it is a good start at addressing changes in an unbalanced system.

Investing in education – Education funding has been a big topic of discussion during our first weeks of the legislative session. This week we started the process for setting an education budget for the next fiscal year. Senate File 172, which sets supplemental state aid (SSA) and Senate File 171, which is the equity bill, includes a total of an $89.3 million increase for K-12 schools. That means in Iowa, with state, and federal money, over $7 billion is spent on K-12 education – more than $14,600 per student.

We have shown our commitment to education in Iowa and believe preparing our children for success is one of the best ways to keep Iowa the number one state in the country. Our budget has continually emphasized our priority in education, while also demonstrating our dedication to budget sustainability and fiscal responsibility.

Funding for education in Iowa does come from a variety of sources, including supplemental state aid, transportation and per pupil equity, federal spending, and property tax payments. Part of the conversation we have been having on education funding is also on the SAVE extension proposal that is moving through the Senate. Senate File 74 would extend the one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure to 2049, making it a 20-year extension from the original end date of 2029. We are committed to providing Iowa’s children with a world-class education and also reexamining all the avenues in which education is funded in our state. The SAVE tax has been a big topic for the last few years here at the Capitol, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject as this bill moves through the process.

Leading the country in jobs – The good news about Iowa continues to be reported by independent outlets. This week, as reported by MarketWatch, Iowa was named the Number One state for jobs by job-search company Zippia. The firm derived their ranking from data gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Since coming into the majority in 2017, we have been focused on delivering policies to improve career opportunities for all Iowans. Lowering taxes and reducing the regulatory burden on Iowa employers have once again been proven to be effective in producing economic growth. As a result of those policies, Iowa’s unemployment rate is now the lowest in the country. Low unemployment, competitive wages, and a low cost of living were some of the primary criteria used to award Iowa the top spot in this ranking. These achievements have repeatedly drawn the attention of national publications and commentators. They are learning what Iowans have always known: this state is a great place with great people.

The successes achieved over the last several years do not mean reforms are not still necessary. More work remains to be done to make this state’s tax policy more competitive, implement more pro-growth policies and improve career opportunities for all Iowans.

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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