Washington Evening Journal
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This Week in Senate District 48
By State Sen. Mark Lofgren
May. 9, 2023 10:38 am
Thursday, May 4, marked the end of the 2023 legislative session. While most of the week was spent debating aspects of the $8.517 billion budget, other legislative priorities also came to fruition this week. Among them were increased safety for Iowa students through HF430, preservation of Iowa's first in the nation status through HF716, and property tax relief for all Iowans, but especially for veterans and senior citizens through HF 718. Details of each of these bills are contained in the following sections.
It always feels good to garner strong bipartisan support for bills that you floor manage. This was the vote for the Economic Development Appropriations Budget bill I floor managed this week.
Improving Safety for Students
On Tuesday the Senate passed HF 430, a bill to limit the ability for teachers to move from district to district if they have been found to engage in inappropriate contact with students. Unfortunately, we have all heard of circumstances where this has happened, and this bill aims to stop this from occurring in the future.
HF 430 eliminates an exception for some child abuse reports to not be filed, states all school employees over age 18 are mandatory reporters, prohibits schools from entering into agreements where the school would be unable to accurately describe the behavior of the teacher in question, and provides liability protection for the school from employment claims against the school. This reform is needed and will help make Iowa children safer in K-12 schools. It will also help to prevent employees with known suspicious or criminal conduct from being hired by other schools.
Maintaining our First in the Nation Status
The Senate passed HF 716 to protect Iowa’s status as the first in the nation in the GOP nominating calendar. Earlier this year the Democratic National Committee made changes to the nominating calendar to remove Iowa’s status as the first in the nation caucus state for Democrats. Iowa has maintained its status as the first in the nation state because it is a caucus and not a primary. Democrats have been concerned with access and the lack of a mail-in option in our caucus process. For that reason, Iowa Democrats proposed a mail-in caucus.
New Hampshire views a mail-in caucus as the equivalent of a primary and New Hampshire state law requires it to have the first primary in the country. A mail-in caucus would break our long-standing agreement between our states to host the opening events in the presidential nominating calendar. This would cause New Hampshire to jump ahead of the Iowa caucuses. HF 716 eliminates this conflict with New Hampshire and protects Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses by prohibiting mail-in voting and allows both parties to write rules governing their caucuses.
Preserving the first in the nation status has tremendous benefits for Republicans, Democrats, and all Iowans. Not only do Iowans get the first look at who's running for president, but we also gain national attention for our state and a strong policy voice for Republicans and Democrats alike.
Historic Property Tax Relief Passed for Iowans
As we began this legislative session, the message from Iowans was loud and clear that property tax relief was of utmost concern. Citizens from all walks of life were concerned about a rise in assessments and how it would affect their property tax bill. Finding a solution was one of our top priorities going into this year, even more so after statewide assessment increases averaged 20-30 percent this year.
The legislature passed House File 718 this week. This bill is the solution to these skyrocketing assessments and fears of being able to afford the property tax bill. House File 718 automatically reduces tax rates when assessments rise, restores basic levy limitations to control government spending, and eliminates loopholes that local governments have used to exceed limits set by law.
It also provides over $100 million in relief to Iowa property taxpayers, including new exemptions for veterans and senior citizens, while also increasing transparency in property taxes and local government spending. Additionally, it moves all elections for bonding to the general election date in November.
Some local governments wanted business as usual, but polling shows 2/3 of Iowans wanted limits on how much local governments can tax and spend. HF 718 is the most comprehensive property tax reform ever.
7th Judicial District Receives Funding for High Risk Crime Unit
The 7th Judicial District, made up of Cedar, Clinton, Jackson, Muscatine and Scott Counties, has over the past five years consistently held the second highest rate of weapons charges and convictions out of the eight judicial districts in the state. Often times, these crimes are committed by offenders who have previously been charged with similar offenses. Because of this concerning data, legislators from these counties worked with city and county administrators, supervisors, police departments, sheriff departments, and the department of corrections to advocate for funding for a High Risk Crime Unit (HRCU) to oversee high risk offenders that commit these types of crimes while on probation and parole.
Currently, our local law enforcement departments do not have the capacity to proactively track high-risk offenders, which are often caught after another violent incident has occurred. HRCUs have the capacity and responsibility to do just that in order to ward off reoffending. This relieves the burden on our law enforcement and lowers the risk for additional violent offenses to occur.
The HRCU will conduct residential check-ins throughout the district and ensure that parolees are complying with the conditions of supervision, including electronic monitoring of parolees. They will also execute warrants and apprehend absconders throughout the community before they can reoffend. The HRCU will be comprised of sworn law enforcement officers, and will assist local law enforcement agencies with fugitive captures, special enforcement projects, task force operations, and seizures of firearms and narcotics.
My colleagues and I are pleased that we were able to secure funding to help bring safety to our five counties. Kudos to all those who worked on this endeavor, including my colleagues: Senators Cournoyer, Gruenhagen and Webster, as well as Representatives Determann, Kaufmann, Mohr, Mommsen, Stoltenberg, and Vondran.
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