The Behn Report

Jerry Behn (R), Boone

March 8, 2019

Week Eight in the legislature was the first funnel week of the year. This deadline requires policy bills to be out of their originating chamber’s committee in order to be considered for the rest of this year. Imposing this deadline forces legislators to focus on priority bills and bills with enough support to pass the chamber. The days went by quickly with a majority of our time spent in subcommittees and committees to make final decisions on bills.

One of the bills discussed this week addresses a problem I’m sure many of you have dealt with yourselves. Senate File 389 prohibits a person from staying in the left-hand lane of a road too long knowing someone is trying to pass them. The left lane on a road is intended to be used for passing slower cars and when drivers “camp there”, it can often lead to slowing down traffic. Incidents where this happens can also lead to road rage, as well as backup and delays for other drivers.

Another bill that went through committee this week is Senate Study Bill 1227. It creates a criminal offense for a person who either obtains access or employment at an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public, intending to cause physical or economic harm. A person who commits this crime would be guilty of a serious misdemeanor the first time and aggravated misdemeanor any time afterwards. This legislation is important to protect livestock producers from malicious actors seeking to destroy their businesses with false accusations.

Senate Study Bill 1241 went through the State Government Committee. This bill continues the goal of providing fair, safe and secure elections for Iowans. The bill is an extensive review of our election laws with a number of provisions and parts. Some of these include checks and balances for county commissions of elections, provides cost-saving opportunities, and increases transparency by requiring public reports from county and state commissioners. It also addresses uniformity across counties, parties, and nonparty political organizations.

Some may remember earlier this year when it was reported a “bureaucratic oversight” within the Secretary of State’s office last year forced all constitutional amendments passed during the 87th General Assembly to start the approval process all over again. This bill will require the state to publish proposed and approved constitutional amendments on the legislative website providing immediate access to Iowans. This ensures mistakes within the Secretary of State’s office do not unintentionally veto constitutional amendments passed by future legislatures.

Responsibility in budgeting – Senate Republicans remain committed to ensuring the long-term fiscal responsibility in the State of Iowa. That commitment includes being mindful when it comes to spending taxpayers hard-earned dollars. It is one thing to talk about being prudent when it comes to spending, it is another to double down, and put that language in the Iowa Constitution.

Taking the current 99 percent spending limitation law and putting it into the Iowa Constitution will ensure the state continues its commitment to crack down on spending. That crackdown will hinder the legislature from circumventing any laws to balance a budget, which happened in Fiscal Years 2006, 2007, and 2009. It would also prohibit the surplus from being calculated in the expenditure limit. This ensures ongoing expenditures are not budgeted to exceed ongoing revenues. Lastly, the constitutional amendment would limit spending increases each year to no more than 4 percent growth from the previous year’s net revenue estimate.

This is an important first step toward long-term fiscal responsibility. As a proposed amendment to the constitution, it must pass both chambers in the same form during this General Assembly, and again in the following General Assembly before it can go to a vote of the people. Enacting a Constitutional Amendment is difficult, and it should be, but this only demonstrates the importance we put on responsible state budgeting, and reining in, state spending.

Leveling the playing field – Private property is a vital aspect of the success of our state and nation. It provides people with the pride of ownership, they maintain and improve their property for tangible and intangible reasons, and in Iowa thousands of people make their living off the land.

This week the Senate Natural Resources Committee approved Senate Study Bill 1221 in an effort to increase fairness in the sale of private property. It is a narrowly crafted bill focused on ensuring private individuals do not have to compete with another private entity using taxpayer dollars to help it outbid them when property is for sale.

In 1989, a state revolving loan fund for water quality and drinking water projects was established, to provide very low or no interest loans to local governments to improve their infrastructure. In the last several years, one private organization began to utilize that fund to obtain those loans to compete against other private individuals in purchasing land. SSB 1221 is a common-sense approach to ensure fairness in the market for property in this state. One person outbidding another person for a piece of land is reasonable and fair. What is not fair is for one entity to have access to a taxpayer subsidized loan and the other party does not.

The bill does not inhibit any practice currently underway to allow conservation boards, local governments, or the DNR from purchasing land for water quality or conservation. It does bring some balance back to land purchases in this state, by ensuring one private entity is not using taxpayer dollars to help it acquire land.

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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