2016 ISSUE #12

Issue 12, 12/28/2016

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Articles in This Issue:

New Leaders, New Priorities

It is always hard to predict which issues will get the most attention when legislators return to Des Moines for the legislative session. This year is no different.  We know there is a long list of issues Republican leaders want to address, things they have been unable to do when Democrats controlled the Senate or the Governor's office.  Now that Republicans control the Iowa House, Iowa Senate, and Governor's office, there is no shortage of issues on their "to do" lists.  

But time is short. The Iowa Legislative session will begin on Monday, January 9, 2017, and legislators have only 110 days to complete their work.  While they can go longer, legislators try to get things wrapped up in that four-month window.  So while the list is long, there will not be enough time to tackle it all.  Here are a few things you might see discussed this year:

  • Budget cuts.
  • Voter ID (requiring photo ID to vote and to register to vote).
  • Labor reforms (collective bargaining changes, choice of doctor).
  • Tax reform (what legislative leaders say will be a "top to bottom" tax review).
  • Water quality (how to fund, and what to fund).
  • School choice (vouchers for parents who choose to send kids to private school).
  • Gun law changes (stand your ground; allowing children under 14 to use handguns).
  • Illegal immigration (banning sanctuary cities).
  • Social issues (defunding Planned Parenthood, abortion restrictions, gay marriage)
  • Legalizing fireworks (and the battle over how to spend tax revenues coming in from sales).
  • Expanding access to medical cannabis (so that people with approved conditions can get it in Iowa).
  • Medical malpractice reform (capping non-economic damages paid out in lawsuits, i.e. pain and suffering).
  • Minimum wage (establishing a uniform state-wide minimum wage, not allowing cities/counties to go above).

What actually gets done will depend on a number of factors.  One of those factors is public opinion.  Legislators will listen to what the people in their district are saying. If enough people say the same thing - legislators will listen.  So if you see something on this list that you want to see happen - or do not want to see happen - let your legislator know, and find others to do the same.  As former State Representative Walt Tomenga used to say, "If one person calls me, I have an issue. If two people call me, we have a problem.  If three people call me, it's a crisis."  

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Budget Cuts Ahead for 2017 Session

State legislators will have the tough job of cutting this year’s state budget by $110 million when they come back into session on January 9, 2017.  State revenues in the first two quarters of this budget year didn't grow as much as expected; predictions were off by $110.8 million.  This includes a $21 million shortfall in Medicaid.  That means state legislators will need to find a way to reduce spending by $110 million in the last half of the fiscal year.

Governor Branstad has already said he will not order across-the-board cuts, but will instead work with legislators to "selectively identify" reductions and hopes to avoid cuts to K-12 school funding. House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow also rejected the idea of across-the-board cuts and said his team will be looking at every budget line item to determine its value.  "Sweeping, across the board cuts to balance the budget should be avoided," said Hagenow "Instead, we are going to work hard to find targeted areas where we can reduce spending and find efficiencies...While this task is time consuming and requires going through the budget line by line, it is the best way to find the revenue necessary to fund our commitments."

In addition, budget projections for the next fiscal year were also adjusted and are now predicting only about $300 million in new money for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2017.  That may trigger even more cuts for next year's budget, particularly if school aid conxumes much of that $300 million in new money.

To recap:

  • Our current state budget spends $7.3 billion in tax revenues, but we only have $7.2 billion to spend.
  • Legislators will have to cut $110 million out of the current budget.
  • Legislators will have $7.5 billion to spend for next year's budget.
  • Legislators will have to find a way to balance next year's budget with only $300 million in new money.
  • Every 1% increase in school funding costs about $40 million.
  • Medicaid is currently short about $21 million; MCOs say Medicaid is underfunded by 40% and is not sustainable.
  • This means tough budget decisions for both the current fiscal year, and in budgeting for next year.

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Special Election Update

Davenport State Senator Joe Seng died in September after a two-year battle with cancer; he was in the middle of his four-year term (Senate District 45).  A special election was held on December 27 to elect a new State Senator.  Jim Lykam, who is currently a State Representative, won this special election with 73% of the vote.  Rep. Lykam is a Democrat, as was Sen. Seng, so this seat keeps the Senate at 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and 1 Independent.

Rep. Lykam will resign from the House soon, and the Governor will set a date for a special election to fill his House seat (House District 89).  The Governor must give at least 18 days notice for a special election, so that means the earliest date for a special election would be January 17 (the day after Martin Luther King Day).  More likely, the Governor will select one of the following Tuesdays (January 24, January 31, or February 7).  The January dates will be right before and after the Presidential Inauguration in Washington DC, an event that many Iowa Republicans will be attending.

We don't know who will run, but we do know that the 100-member Iowa House of Representatives will begin the legislative session with 99 legislators (59 Republicans, 40 Democrats, 1 vacancy).

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2017 Committee Assignments Announced

Over the past several weeks, the four caucuses in the Iowa Legislature have announced their committee assignments.  We have compiled these into a single document that will be updated online as special elections are completed, and assignments are finalized.  You can find that document here - or you can find each caucus' assignments below:

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2017 Legislative Calendar

There are rumors that legislators may try to save money by ending session earlier than expected.  That means they may consider moving legislative deadlines up.  Below are a few dates you might want to know for this upcoming legislative session - but they are subject to change.  We'll let you know final dates once session begins.

January 9, 2017
Session begins

January 10, 2017
Governor gives "Condition of the State" speech & releases fiscal year 2018 budget recommendations

February 10, 2017
Last day for legislators to request and sponsor bills (committee bills can still be requested by committee chairs)

March 3, 2017
First "Funnel" Deadline
House bills must be voted out of House committees & Senate bills must be voted out of Senate committees 

March 31, 2017
Second "Funnel" Deadline 
House bills must be voted out of Senate committees & Senate bills must be voted out of House committees 

April 5, 2017
Advocating for Change Day 2017 - click here to register or learn more.

April 28, 2017
110th Day - "Last Day" of Session
Last day legislators are paid expenses for their work

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Tools to Get Ready for Session

A little preparation can help you a lot in your advocacy. Here are a few things that can help you out this year:

  • Find your legislators, and send them a quick email or hand-written note welcoming them back to session.  Let them know what you care about, and offer to be a resource or reality check for them on legislation introduced on these topics.  Also ask them to add you to their newsletter list, and to let you know when they have forums in your area.  Reading your legislators' weekly newsletters is a great way to find out what they are doing at the Capitol.  And if you visit them at the Capitol, you might just find your picture in their newseltter!
  • Find out what bills have already been requested by reading the list of pre-filed bills here.  Legislators can request bills be drafted before the session begins, and this list is available to the public online. It's a great way to preview some of the issues that might be discussed this year.
  • Refresh your memory of the 2016 session by reviewing the bills that passed here.  It's amazing how quickly we forget what happened just a few months ago when session ended.  Taking a quick look at budgets and bills that passed will help jog your memory - and may help you with your advocacy this year.
  • Get acquainted with the Iowa Legislature's website.  There are lots of great tools to keep you informed - such as daily bill packets, daily session reports, and weekly/daily schedules.
  • Check out our Grassroots Action Center.  Our Grassroots Action Center makes emailing your state legislators, the Governor, and your federal elected officials (US Senators, US Representatives, President, Vice President) simple. You don't even need to know the names of your elected officials.  Check out our "how to" video here.  See how it can make advocacy quick & easy!

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Coming Soon!

We are currently in the process of updating our popular Guide to the Iowa Legislature.  We will post early editions of it online soon after the new year, but will wait to print it until all special elections are complete.  This may be a bit tricky, since the Governor will be leaving during the spring of 2017 to become US Ambassador, and other Iowa legislators may be offered jobs in the new Trump Administration.  

Stay tuned at watch for updates to the Guide at www.infonetiowa.org.

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