Iowa's Legislature opens on Monday. Today, our editorial board offers, in no specific order, 10 priorities for action by lawmakers during this year's session.
In our view, the Legislature should:
1) Strengthen bullying law
After three sessions of discussion and near-passage in 2015 of a bill to strengthen state anti-bullying law, the Legislature in 2016 and again in 2017 virtually ignored the issue.
Our hope for this year is the same as what we hoped for last year: Passage of a stronger anti-bullying law, similar to a 2015 proposal passed in overwhelming fashion by the Senate but denied a floor vote in the House, and state money for the Governor's Office for Bullying Prevention.
2) Extend school infrastructure sales tax
We support an extension of the one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure, but only for school infrastructure as was the original intent. We do not support diverting money from an extended school infrastructure tax for other purposes.
For purposes of planning and bonding for future infrastructure projects, school districts need an end to uncertainty about the tax's future.
3) Renew Targeted Jobs Program
In 2013, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a five-year extension of the Targeted Jobs Withholding Tax Credit Program aimed at helping border communities attract private investment that might otherwise go to a neighboring state. The program allows qualifying businesses to apply for state-withholding tax credits if they plan to relocate or expand in Iowa, provided they are creating or retaining jobs.
The program will expire this year.
4) Address need for long-term water quality plan
In 2017, water quality initiatives were discussed, but pushed off to the next year for the second consecutive year. The Legislature should jump-start this important discussion this year.
We suggest revisiting a plan proposed within the House in 2016 to direct money for water quality from the state's Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, which is funded by gambling revenue, and the state sales tax Iowans pay on their water bill.
5) Improve safety on roads
Raising texting while driving from a secondary to a primary offense last year was a positive step by the Legislature toward safer roads in our state.
This year, we encourage Iowa lawmakers to go one step further and ban use of a hand-held cellphone while driving.
6) Tackle tax reform
Members of our editorial board, in principle, believe in lower taxes for everyone who pays them - individuals, families, businesses - because we believe Americans should keep more of the money they earn.
For that reason, we support discussion of ways to reform state tax code as a means by which to lower the burden of taxes on Iowans.
7) Start consolidation conversation
We encourage formation of a legislative study committee to begin what we understand will be contentious, difficult dialogue about county government consolidation in this state.
Our question: Does Iowa need 99 counties?
8) Fix gun law
Lawmakers should revisit the gun law they passed in 2017 in order to give local government bodies the legal right under state law to adopt a ban on weapons in local public buildings, such as the Woodbury County Courthouse.
While they're at it, they should remove the provision allowing firearms in the Iowa Capitol.
9) Decide school funding early
The Legislature should make a decision on K-12 education state aid early in the session so local school districts will have the information they need to craft budgets within a proper time frame.
Room exists for still more improvement by lawmakers in this process. State law, in fact, requires the Legislature to set state funding for K-12 public schools two years in advance and within 30 days of receiving the governor's budget.
10) Address opioid abuse
A new report by the University of Iowa shares troubling numbers about the extent to which this state faces a problem of opioid abuse. A class of drugs, opioids include legal pain relievers available by prescription and the illegal drug heroin.
According to the UI report, which was compiled through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to UI's Injury Prevention Research Center, shows:
- Prescription opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled in Iowa since 1999.
- Heroin deaths have increased more than ninefold in the past 15 years, three times higher than the national average.
The U of I report is a good place to start a discussion within the Legislature of how state government should respond to this national crisis here in Iowa.