The Behn Report

Sen Jerry Behn (R), Boone

~by Sen Jerry Behn

We are fourteen weeks into the legislative session, leaving us with only two weeks until the scheduled end of session. This deadline prompted discussion on a number of substantive topics this week and many hours debating on the Senate floor.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill creating a children’s behavioral health system in Iowa. After last year’s improvements to the adult mental health system in our state, it was important to expand those services to children.

The creation of the children’s mental health system adds to the existing infrastructure for the adult mental health system and creates a board to oversee the system. The data collected will help policymakers make important decisions in the years to come. The House passed this bill last month and it passed the Senate 46-2. It will now go to the governor for her signature.

Senate File 599 passed the Senate this week permitting Iowa farmers to grow hemp. Last year, the Senate passed a bill that would have allowed hemp production on a limited scale under a pilot program as required by federal law. The Farm Bill passed by Congress last year removed hemp as a controlled substance and legalized it as a commodity. Iowa is one of only 11 states without a hemp program. Senate File 599, the Iowa Hemp Act, sets up a program that limits the number of hemp acres a licensee may plant and requires THC testing of the crop prior to harvest.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed House File 692, a bill making a number of changes and improvements to how elections are managed in our state. It changed how the Secretary of State’s office manages proposed constitutional amendments approved by the legislature and allows these proposals to be published on a website rather than only in newspapers. This was done in order to prevent any further problems publishing proposed Constitutional amendments after repeated issues with the Secretary of State’s office. The bill also brings checks-and-balances to our county commissioners of elections, while expanding their authority over elections and provides cost saving opportunities.

Additionally, this bill works to increase transparency when it comes to election laws in Iowa and addresses uniformity across counties, parties, and nonparty political organizations. The objective with this bill is to continue our goal of fair, safe, and secure elections in Iowa. The bill passed 31-18.

The Senate also passed Senate File 617, authorizing sports wagering and fantasy sports in Iowa. This bill will allow for gambling on professional, collegiate, and international sports. It requires a person be at least 21 years of age in order to participate in sports wagering or fantasy sports contests. Sports wagering is already happening across the country and our state illegally. By passing this bill, it sets up a framework to ensure Iowans can place bets on sports contests in a safe, legal way. It passed 31-18 and now goes to the House.

Truth in Taxation

Few issues raise the ire of Iowans quite like runaway property tax increases. Because of the structure of Iowa’s property tax laws, an increase in the value of a property can yield significant increases in property tax payments even without any action by elected officials at the local level to increase tax rates. As a result, property taxes for Iowans have more than doubled in the last 18 years. Meanwhile, income for those same people has risen only 43% over that same time period. Clearly, this rate of increase is unsustainable.

Senate Republicans released a plan this week to control the growth, improve transparency, and increase accountability of property tax increases. Under Senate Study Bill 1260, when valuations on property rise, the levy rate for cities and counties automatically adjusts so the property taxpayer pays the same tax as they did the previous year. Local governments can raise revenue up to 2 percent from the previous year and 3 percent with a supermajority of their members, but those officials now must actively vote on that increase at a public hearing instead of passively spending the windfall from increased valuations.

Elements of this plan have been effective in controlling property tax increases in many other states including New York and Utah. Despite claims to the contrary, this bill will not affect any pension payments from local governments nor affect their ability to service their debt. This change controls property tax increases, improves transparency in property tax collections, and increases accountability on the local level for rapidly rising tax rates.

A Recovery Plan for Iowa

Historic flooding has wreaked havoc in western Iowa communities and farm ground along the Missouri River. The extensive flooding impacted cities and rural areas alike. Whether it is homeowners in towns, business owners, or farmers, the high water left an overwhelming number of Iowans struggling with the flood recovery.

Flood damages are estimated in excess of $2 billion. Businesses and homeowners face unanswered questions as they return to areas where the water has receded. Farmers face the same uncertainty as more than 100,000 acres of farm ground were under water as a result of the flooding.

Senate Republican leaders have been vocal about inaction at the federal level, and with the potential of more flooding in the coming weeks, the true financial impact will not be known for quite some time.

Senate Republican leaders joined Governor Kim Reynolds this week as she issued Executive Order #4, which establishes the Flood Recovery Advisory Board. That group is given the responsibility to assist and coordinate a comprehensive recovery and rebuilding effort. The advisory board will work with federal, state, and local governments as well as various organizations to rebuild those communities and people impacted by the devastating flooding.

The governor also requested a funding package of $15 million in Fiscal Year 2019, and $10 million in FY2020, which is directed to go toward the workforce housing tax credit to assist Iowans with housing improvements in the flooded areas. Senate Republicans stand ready with Governor Reynolds to assist those individuals and businesses recovering from this disaster.

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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