School Start-Date Bill Showing Movement in IA Legislature

Republicans on a House Committee have voted to set “on or after August 23″ as the time frame for Iowa’s K-through-12 public schools to start the fall semester. Iowa’s tourism industry has complained for years about schools starting classes earlier and earlier in August. Governor Branstad’s education director issued a memo two months ago telling schools they’ll no longer get waivers to ignore the state law which declares that Iowa schools are to start during the week in which September 1st falls. Representative Patti Ruff, a Democrat from Maquoketa, is a former school board member and she says local school officials should be making this decision, not the state. Ruff and all the other Democrats on the House Education Commtitee voted against having the state set the date for starting the fall semester. Continue Reading

First Bill Approved by Iowa Legislature is a Tax Measure

A bill on its way to the governor will align state tax law with changes made at the federal level in December. It’s the first bill to pass the Iowa Senate and House this year and Representative Chris Hagenow, a Republican from Windsor Heights, says it will ultimately save Iowa taxpayers an estimated 100-million dollars this year. The bill would extend a tax break to Iowa business owners, allowing them to claim the first half of a million dollars worth of new equipment purchases as a tax deduction for the busienss. It also allows Iowa teachers to claim a tax credit for up to 250-dollars for the supplies, equipment and materials used in their classroom. That’s a positive for Representative Dave Jacoby, Democrat from Coralville, but he has some concerns about the bill, namely where the money will not be going. Continue Reading

HOG ODOR CONTROL

Bush Brother Commits to March Iowa Agriculture Summit

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will make his first campaign splash in Iowa in just under a month. He is among the likely Republican presidential candidates who have agreed to appear at the first-ever “Iowa Ag Summit” on March 7th. Bruce Rastetter, a mega-donor to Republican candidates like Terry Branstad and a major contributor to the “American Future Fund” Super PAC is the event’s host. Nick Ryan runs the American Future Fund and he’s also helping to organize Rastetter’s summit.  Ryan says each candidate will get 20 minutes on stage with Rastetter to answer his questions and some from the audience as well. Continue Reading

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Gas Tax Hike May Be Tied to Reduced County Borrowing

Key legislators involved in crafting a bill to raise the state tax on motor fuel by a dime a gallon say the legislation will include an attempt to rein in county borrowing for road and bridge projects. Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, says Black Hawk County, for example, has borrowed over 35 million dollars for transportation-related projects in the past seven years.  Byrnes, who is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, says the problem is many roads will have to be repaired or even replaced long before residents have paid back the 30-year bond for the original project. Senator Tod Bowman, a Democrat from Maquoketa, is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Bowman says the bill to raise the gas tax likely will include a call for counties to match the length of their loans to the “life-expectancy” of the road or bridge. Continue Reading

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Higher Gas Tax or Not?

A new Loras College Poll has found a majority of Iowans support an increase in the state gas tax. Nearly 54 percent of those surveyed said they would tell their legislator to vote for a ten-cent hike in the state fuel tax. Political science professor Christopher Budzisz is director of the Loras College Poll and he says all 12-hundred Iowans who were surveyed voted in the 2014 General Election. The Loras College Poll found support among independents and among Democrats for an increase in the state tax on each gallon of motor fuel sold in Iowa. Among Republicans, nearly 49 percent opposed the idea, while over 45 percent supported the tax hike. Continue Reading

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Hand-Held Cell and Texting Bill Gets Look in Iowa Senate Committee

It would be illegal to use a hand-held cellphone while driving if a bill proposed by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau becomes law. Texting while driving would also become a primary offense, meaning an officer would be able to pull someone over if they suspect the driver is texting. Patrick Hoye, the former head of the Iowa State Patrol, is now chief of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau. Hoye met with members of the Senate Transportation Committee to discuss the bill. He says cell phone use while driving — to either talk or text — is just as bad as drunk driving because not only does it take one hand off the wheel, it takes the driver’s attention away from the road. Continue Reading

Ernst to Chair Green Energy, Broadband Expansion Committee

Senator Joni Ernst is now chair of a subcommittee that oversees U-S-D-A programs that promote renewable energy and broadband expansion. Ernst is a member of the Senate Ag Committee and just this past week she was named chairman of the subcommitee on rural development and energy. Ernst says identifying ways to “enhance” rural life is a priority for the subcommittee and she sees former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack — who is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture — as a partner. Ernst is also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Anti-war protesters disrupted an Armed Services Committee hearing this week and Ernst says it was an unfortunate distraction from the testimony of former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Madeleine Albright. Continue Reading

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Legislative Committee May Vote on Gas Tax This Week

The first committee votes on a bill that would raise the state fuel tax by as much as a dime a gallon may come this week at the statehouse. For several years, the idea of phasing-in a gas tax hike was considered, but never enacted. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, says this year is different.  More than 200 county and city officials, along with road builders, flooded the statehouse last Wednesday to lobby for a fuel tax increase. Paulsen, Republican Governor Terry Brasntad and Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal have all said it will require “bipartisan support” for a gas tax hike to pass the legislature, however. Continue Reading

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Southern Iowa, Northern Missouri Approaching Drought Status

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Parts of Iowa, Missouri and other Midwest states are teetering close to drought status. The National Drought Mitigation Center on Thursday classified a large swath of southern Iowa, areas along the northern Missouri border and the region east toward Illinois and Wisconsin as abnormally dry. This is one level below its moderate drought category. The label comes just a week after the center categorized the area as normal. Continue Reading