Column: Are Iowa legislators in the home stretch?DES MOINES, Iowa — With the first day of spring upon us, it’s a time that the Iowa General Assembly usually begins to tighten the reins on major bills and round the fourth turn toward adjournment
By: Iowa State Senator David Johnson, Worthington Daily Globe
DES MOINES, Iowa — With the first day of spring upon us, it’s a time that the Iowa General Assembly usually begins to tighten the reins on major bills and round the fourth turn toward adjournment. At the start of the session, expectations were that we would complete the people’s business by early to mid-April.
Today, I’m not so sure.
Three major initiatives remain unresolved between the Senate and the House — education reform, property tax relief and streamlining the delivery of mental health services.
Republicans who control the House and Democrats who set the agenda in the Senate are far apart on the final details of the governor’s education reform proposal and his property tax relief plan.
Perhaps the two parties are closer to agreement on redesigning how Iowans gain access to mental health and developmental disability services. This bill (Senate File 2315) passed the Senate last week, 32-18. Seven Republicans joined 25 Democrats in voting for the legislation; 17 Republicans and one Democrat voted against the measure.
I cast a no vote for several reasons. First and foremost, the bill comes without a pricetag. To me that raises the specter of possible runaway costs. We are working at putting a number on the plan.
Second is the plan itself. A number of senators see power shifting from local officials to the state, specifically the Department of Human Services. Counties need some degree of independence, a provision included in the House version.
Third, the current county mental health levy on property is scheduled to expire. The levy generates $125 million to $130 million statewide. Without that local funding, the state would have to provide more dollars in order to keep the mental health system functional to meet the needs of Iowans.
I believe a compromise can be reached on the two differing versions in the House and Senate, one that most legislators can agree with if it addresses their concerns.
Internet Poker — Also last week the Iowa Senate passed a bill that would set up the framework that could allow Iowa residents, age 21 or older, to participate in Internet poker. The bill (Senate File 2275) would allow casino operators or approved licensed service providers in the state of Iowa to set up online poker games. The games would be regulated and taxed similarly to games at current brick-and-mortar casinos.
Last December, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission completed a study that projected potential gross receipts in the range of $13 to $60 million on Internet poker while increasing state revenue by $2.8 to $13 million annually.
I voted no. There already are a large number of gambling opportunities readily available to Iowans, and Internet poker could be an additional detriment to Iowans’ budgets. In addition, the state already receives a large amount of revenue from gambling and has become too reliant on that source of revenue.
Currently, Nevada and the District of Columbia have legalized online poker. Iowa is among a handful of states that have considered legalizing the activity. It is yet to be determined if the House will take up the measure, and it is unclear whether the governor will sign the bill.
I will be joining Governor Branstad and three other northwest Iowa legislators at a special town hall meeting from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Spencer Community Theater. Then, at 11:30, the governor, state Rep Jeff Smith of Spirit Lake and I will hold a forum in the Hedberg Theater at the Maritime Museum in Arnolds Park. The public is invited to both events.
Your questions and comments are always welcome. You can reach me in the Iowa Senate by calling (712) 758-3280 and leaving a message; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, represents Iowa Senate District 3.