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On the Hill with Klein – Week 1

By Jarad Klein

85th General Assembly, January 13-17, 2014

The first week of the 2014 session is well underway, and with that also comes our weekly columns updating you on issues we are dealing with in Des Moines.  Before I get too far into the issues, I want to say it is truly an honor to serve you once again in Des Moines.  If you have any questions, or are at the Capitol, don’t hesitate to text message or call me on my cell at 515-689-5430.  
As in the past, the first week is full of a lot of ceremony and speeches.  On Tuesday we heard the annual Condition of the State address from Governor Branstad.  We also received the Governor’s budget, 30 days before he is required to present it.  Getting the budget early is a huge advantage when trying to move session along.
The budget proposal implements the major policy initiatives passed by the Legislature during the 2013 session and introduces some new ideas as well.
The Governor’s budget is proposing to spend $7.9 billion from the General Fund in FY 2015.  This is above the Revenue Estimating Conference’s December ongoing revenue estimate of $6,983.2 billion.  The proposal represents an increase of $505 million over the FY 2014 budget.  Over $330 million of the increase goes to implement two bills – the Commercial Property Tax Relief bill and the Education Reform bills that included raising state aid for schools by $245 per student.  Additionally $86 million is just for paying the state’s share of Medicaid costs.  Due to Iowa’s strong economy and federal changes to the formula, the state’s share of Medicaid is at an all-time high.  
While the Governor starts the process as in years past, the Senate will react with a ceiling, and in the House we will set the floor for the budget.  In the end we will meet in the middle, but we will not abandon the principles that have taken us from a $900 million budget shortfall three years ago to a projected ending surplus of $928 million.  We will spend less than the state collects; we will not use one-time money for on-going funds; we will not balance a budget by intentionally underfunding programs; and we will return unused tax dollars to Iowa’s taxpayers.
Other highlights from the Governor’s speech included connecting everyone to broadband internet, freezing tuition at the regents, reducing student debt, apprenticeship programing, the Home Base Iowa effort, and the Renewable Fuel Standard.  He also highlights the success of 2013, including Iowa’s low unemployment and the additional 119,000 jobs created under his tenure.
On Wednesday, Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, Mark S. Cady, delivered the State of the Judiciary. In previous speeches, Justice Cady would report on the large problems facing Iowa Courts, this year the Chief Justice was able to highlight the wonderful changes being made in the Court System, thanks to responsible budgeting that has allowed more individuals to be hired and various specialty courts to be opened.
Last year, the Chief Justice laid out six priorities for the Judicial Branch. Those priorities are the same today: Protecting Iowa’s Children; Providing full-time access to justice; Operating an efficient, full-service court system; Providing faster and less costly resolution of legal disputes; Being open and transparent; and Providing fair and impartial justice for all.
With the additional funding provided by the Iowa legislature in 2013, the Judicial Branch was able to meet all 6 of these goals last year.
The Iowa Judicial Branch is thriving and Iowans have more access to justice than ever before. New courts, specialty courts, and better use of technology means that Iowa’s Courts continue to be some of the best in the nation.
Through the week each committee also met and started various bills in the process.  My committee assignments this year are the same.  I sit on 5 committees, of which I am the Vice Chair of 2.  The various committees I sit on are Public Safety, Labor, Environmental Protection, Agriculture (Vice Chair), Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget Subcommittee (Vice Chair).
I have started to dig into the various pieces of legislation I am managing.  In the Public Safety Committee I am working on a bill that deals with personal privacy and property rights with the centerpiece dealing with unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as drones.  I anticipate this will be the most publicly discussed bill I am directly managing this year.  I am sure I will write about this more in the coming weeks.
The highest profile task this year for the labor committee will be the minimum wage issue.  I have not been assigned this bill, so I cannot predict its future for a couple weeks.  I will be handling some code clean up bills in this area.
The Environmental Protection Committee will be working to improve our voluntary nutrient reduction strategy policy passed in 2013, which is already being used as model for other states in the Mississippi Watershed.  Our actions last year have been well-received and successful. We saw more cover crops planted in Iowa than ever before, which is directly reducing nutrient loss to our rivers.  We have also reduced the state’s back log in the cost share program.
In the Agriculture Committee I will be working on finalizing the program I worked to start last year for on-line continuing education for manure applicators, this is only for the class portion not the testing.  The program is built and being rolled out to test in early February.  I hope to push this along to a full roll-out quickly in light of the current biosecurity pressures pork producers are facing.  We are also looking at the idea of doing the same system for private pesticide applicators.  In the end my goal is to provide efficiency in provided services and link the system with current technology.  
As Vice Chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources budget subcommittee, I will again be working to fund the nutrient reduction strategy, this is one of those areas I work on both policy and appropriations.  We will also be studying Emerald Ash Boar and what we should do now that it is spreading around the state.  The third area I will focus on is funding for Iowa State research and the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.  I am sure other issues will also arise as the session progresses.  
Next week will be short; we do not meet on Monday due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  We are also going to be in our districts on Tuesday the 21st, for our Caucuses.  We will squeeze all our work into Wednesday and Thursday.  The last couple cycles the Caucuses were held before session so this is another first for me.  
If you need to contact me before the upcoming forums you can reach me in Des Moines through the House switchboard at 515-281-3221, or email me at Jarad.Klein@legis.iowa.gov.