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Iowa Capitol Dome

The Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines is pictured.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal file

DES MOINES — The Iowa House on Tuesday approved a bill crafted in response to Linn County supervisors’ use of a lease-purchase agreement, rather than a traditional competitive-bidding process on a public health building.

House File 2253 would require public bodies — cities, counties and state government, including the Board of Regents, to go through a competitive bidding process before awarding contracts for public projects, including lease-purchase arrangements.

Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, pushed the bill after the Linn supervisors chose not to use competitive bids before awarding a contract for construction of a public health and youth development services building estimated at $31.1 million.

His goal, he said Tuesday, was transparency. The bill was approved 57-38 and now goes to the Senate.

In Linn County, supervisors invited seven local contractors who’d previously worked with the county to submit proposals on the building.

Highfill said the bill is intended to prevent elected officials from rewarding friends, allies and campaign donors.

If the bill also is passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, it won’t affect the Linn County project because supervisors have awarded a contract for the building.

Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, supported an amendment to the bill to exempt projects involving tax increment financing, low-rent housing and urban renewal projects that “are necessary for improving the quality of life in Iowa.”

However, he opposed the bill, saying it is unnecessary and takes away a tool from elected officials to get the best price possible on taxpayer-financed projects.

Teacher test

House Republicans voted 55-42 to eliminate the requirement that people seeking to be licensed to teach in Iowa public schools pass the Praxis II test, a content-specific exam used in 39 other states.

House File 2280 would allow local school districts to have their own test, but lawmakers said it is unlikely local districts would establish such tests.

Rep. Tom Moore, R-Griswold, a former teacher, said the change is needed because of a shortage of teachers. Although 96 percent of the people taking the Praxis II exam have passed it, Moore said about 500 people had failed it and, therefore, are not eligible to be licensed to teach in Iowa.

The teacher shortage is not limited to Iowa. National data show a 35 percent drop in enrollment in teacher prep programs between 2009 and 2014.

In Iowa, colleges are graduating about 400 fewer teachers, counselors and administrators per year than in 2013 when the education reform bill was enacted.

As part of that bill, Iowa teachers were required to pass an assessment, such as the Praxis II exam. It includes an assessment in pedagogy — how a teacher teaches what a student has to learn.

Two alternative assessments are allowed, but they would be eliminated by the bill.

Democrats argued that the teacher shortage is caused by underfunding schools. Licensure exams, they added, are required for many professions.

“If we pass this, we are saying that veterinarians who take care of our cats and dogs have to pass a licensure exam, but to provide teaching to our children, they do not,” House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said.

Moore countered that the Praxis was not required before 2013 and Iowa had high standards for teachers, but “we didn’t have a darned test to determine if you were qualified to be a teacher.”

Other bills

The House also:

-- Voted 65-30 to open the door for the arcade chain Dave & Buster’s to Iowa by approving Senate File 2333 that allows businesses to offer prizes worth up to $950 for games of skill.

Bill manager Moore called it an “economic development” bill for Iowa that could lead to 120 new jobs and $32 million in capital investment.

Nine of the 433 prizes Dave and Buster’s offers are worth more than $118, Moore said. There are 33 states that have no dollar limit on similar prizes.

Not everyone wanted to pay, however.

Rep. Dennis Cohoon, D-Burlington, was concerned about the impact on small bars and restaurants that can’t afford $950 prizes.

“It doesn’t make for a level playing field,” he said about the bill that would “carve out a niche for one entity.”

The bill has been approved 45-5 by the Senate. The House made a change in a square footage requirement in the bill, so it must go back to the Senate for concurrence.

-- Voted 97-0 to give local school boards and administrators more flexibility in how they use funds they are unable to spend that are earmarked for class-size reduction, at-risk students and of dropout prevention, professional development and home school assistance. Representatives also amended House File 2441 to allow schools to use those funds to hire security personnel and mental health counselors.

-- Voted 94-0 to approve House File 2342 that would require the Department of Natural Resources to preserve items, such as fish and game, seized when a person is accused of violations of wildlife laws if the charges do not result in a conviction.


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