More than 45,000 in Iowa Sign Up for Coverage on Exchange

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Federal officials say that over 45,000 people in Iowa have signed up for health care coverage on the federal exchange. The second open enrollment period under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul — known as the Affordable Care Act — ended Sunday. In a Wednesday news release, federal officials say over 45,000 people in Iowa signed up or were automatically re-enrolled in a plan. That’s more than the roughly 29,000 who signed up during the first enrollment. Over 2,000 people who shopped on the exchange are still enrolled in plans with an insurance cooperative that the state plans to liquidate. Continue Reading

Iowa Senate Committee OKs Bills on Minimum Wage, Wage Theft

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Senate committee has approved bills that would increase Iowa’s minimum wage and create a more detailed system for preventing wage theft. The committee on labor and business relations voted Wednesday to advance both bills. The full Democratic-controlled Senate can now debate them. The minimum wage bill would increase the state’s $7.25 minimum wage to $8.75 by 2016. Democrats previously pushed to raise Iowa’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, but they now say this new bill could have more bipartisan support. Continue Reading

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Gas Tax Proposal Advances through House Committee

The bill to raise Iowa’s gas tax by a dime-a-gallon cruised to approval in the House Transportation Committee Wednesday afternoon. It passed on a 16 to five vote. Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, has been pushing for the last four years to raise the state tax on motor fuel. “It’s never easy when we start talking about tax increases, but I do feel that at the end of the day this does seem to be the right mechanims for what we need to do,” Byrnes says. State gas taxes, along with vehicle registration fees, are placed in a state fund that must be spent exclusively on road and bridge projects, but Iowa D-O-T officials say with improvements in the fuel effiency of vehicles, that fund is running at least 215-million dollars short each year. Continue Reading

Legislators Still Debating State Funding for Schools

There was angry debate Wednesday in the Iowa House Education Committee as Republicans and Democrats battle over how much state money to spend on K-through-12 schools next year. Republicans say the state cannot afford the four percent increase approved by Senate Democrats. Representative Greg Forristal, a Republican from Macedonia, suggests a salary freeze for teachers would free up more money for new textbooks and other school initiatives. “The federal government is telling us that farmers will make 3 percent less in this coming year,” he says. “…Maybe this is the year that teachers could just accept last year’s salary.” Continue Reading

Fuel Tax Backers Lobby Lawmakers as Report Shows Road Needs

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Members of an influential farming group are lobbying lawmakers to approve a fuel tax increase to pay for road improvements. Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill said Wednesday that 200 members of his group were in the Capitol, talking to legislators. Hill appeared at a news conference where a national transportation research group released a report detailing weaknesses with Iowa’s bridges and roads. The report says 27 percent of Iowa’s urban roads and highways are in poor condition and that 21 percent of Iowa’s bridges are structurally deficient. Lawmakers in the state House and Senate are reviewing bills that would raise the state fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon to pay for roads. Continue Reading

New IL Governor Calls for Billions in Cuts, No New Taxes

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois’ new Republican governor is calling for deep spending cuts to address a state budget billions in the red without raising taxes. Gov. Bruce Rauner said during his first budget address Wednesday that Illinois has been living beyond its means. He says lawmakers must be willing to make unpopular decisions to make up for a more than $6 billion budget hole next year. Rauner’s address was short on details. Continue Reading

Lawyer: Iowa Prison Judges Should Disclose Outside Contacts

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — An attorney who represents inmates says Iowa prison judges should disclose any communications they receive from wardens and others about pending disciplinary cases. Iowa City lawyer Phil Mears says the disclosure is important so that inmates can later challenge any improper outside influences that may affect the sanctions they receive. A report released Monday by the Office of Ombudsman found that wardens and other Iowa Department of Corrections employees routinely discuss pending cases with prison judges. The report says that practice undermines inmates’ statutorily-required right to have independent judges decide sanctions for rules violations, which can lengthen their prison terms for up to a year. One warden told investigators that he routinely lobbied the judge in his prison to “ratchet up” punishments to send a message to other inmates. Continue Reading

Bill Banning ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’ Advances in Iowa Senate

A bill that would outlaw so-called “conversation therapy” for minors in Iowa has cleared a subcommittee in the Iowa Senate. Senator Matt McCoy, the only openly gay member of the Iowa legislature, says there is no “cure” for homosexuality. “Best practices for the past 40 years, the [American Medical Association] and everyone else has stated you can’t change a kid’s orientation and to do so harms them irreparably,” McCoy says. McCoy is the bill’s chief sponsor and he’s fashioned it after legislation signed into law in New Jersey by Republican Governor Chris Christie. If the bill becomes law, state-licensed psychiatrists, therapists and social workers would be barred from offering counseling sessions designed to change a minor’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Continue Reading

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Bill Banning Teen Tanning Clears Iowa House Committee

A bill that would ban teenagers from commercial tanning bed businesses has cleared a committee in the Iowa House. About 100 volunteers from the American Cancer Society were at the statehouse Thursday as a show of support for the bill. Gail Orcutt of Pleasant Hill, a lung cancer survivor, has a cousin who died of skin cancer two years ago. “Kids can’t go in and buy cigarettes and certainly they can’t smoke cigarettes before they’re 18,” Orcutt says, “so we need to keep our kids safe and a lot of parents just don’t know how dangerous tanning is.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, indoor tanning can cause skin cancer. Continue Reading