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Customers get gas

Brian Madsen, of Sioux City, refuels in Morningside on March 8, 2013. Gov. Terry Branstad said he wants bipartisan support for raising the gas tax, but he declined to offer his own plan, saying it would give potential critics “a target to shoot at.”

A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Thursday:

Smart planning: The House Local Government Committee will have a public hearing on HF 268 from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Iowa Supreme Court Chamber, Room 102 of the Capitol.

HF 268 calls for eliminating the Iowa smart planning principles and other local comprehensive planning and development guidelines.

Anyone wishing to speak may sign up at the Legislative Information Office, Room G16, in the Iowa State Capitol, or call the office at 515-281-5129 or email mail written testimony to housechiefclerk@legis.iowa.gov. Type “Testimony” in the subject line.

NASA calling: Dr. Nathan Kurtz, a NASA scientist and Iowa native, is scheduled to speak to legislators and the public about the impact of climate change on the earth’s polar regions on Monday at the state Capitol.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said he set up the visit because Iowans need to learn about climate change and the effects that it is already having in order to understand the potential future impacts.

Kurtz, a native of Fort Madison who received his undergraduate degree at Iowa State University, is now a post-doctoral researcher with NASA working on Operation IceBridge. The NASA project is focusing on images of Earth's polar ice that are unprecedented in detail to better understand processes that connect polar regions with the global climate system. The project also is measuring changes in thickness of sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets. IceBridge collects critical data used to predict the response of earth's polar ice to climate change and resulting sea-level rise.

Gas prices inching down: The price for Iowa retail gasoline is dropping, according to a weekly report issued by the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

As of Tuesday, AAA reported the retail price of regular unleaded gasoline averaged $3.66 per gallon across Iowa – a decline of four cents from last week. Meanwhile, fueled blended with 10 percent ethanol was $3.58, a drop of three cents per gallon compared to a week ago. The national average on Tuesday was $3.71 a gallon. Also, propane prices were down a penny with a statewide average of $1.40 per gallon, while home heating oil fell four cents -- ending with a statewide average of $3.57 per gallon. Natural Gas prices in Iowa were up eight cents from last week’s report, ending the week at $3.71/MMbtu.

Re-rail Iowa: Passenger rail supporters plan to tout the benefits of expanded service in Iowa at the state Capitol next week. A coalition of consumer, environmental and labor groups hopes to drive home to legislators and the public the benefits that new passenger rail service from the Quad Cities to Council Bluffs would have for economic development, freight service, travelers, and the environment.

Up to $20.6 million in state investments will be needed to secure an $87 million grant to Iowa from the Federal Railroad Administration to upgrade tracks to handle trains traveling at 79 mph. Among the visuals that event sponsors of the Re-Rail Iowa Education Day plan to offer will be a model train set displaying model replicas of both the proposed passenger train and freight that will on a large “cut-out” of the state of Iowa.

Sponsoring organizations include the Iowa Public Interest Research Group, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers, the United Transportation Union Legislative Board, the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Entrepreneur award: Chuck Dirks, president of CQM Systems LLC, of Coralville, was honored with House Resolution 24 Thursday for being selected to receive the 2012 Neal Smith Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The award is named the former Iowa congressman. It’s given to an Iowa entrepreneur who has been in business at least three years and has been significantly assisted by an Iowa Small Business Development Center.

The resolution also honored Christina Moffatt, owner of Creme Cupcake + Dessert of Des Moines. She won the 2012 Deb Dalziel Woman Entrepreneur Achievement Award winner, an award which honors an Iowa woman entrepreneur who has significantly changed or improved her life and the lives of others.

Outdoor recreation plan: The Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan will be available for public comment through April 15 at http://thegaz.us/p.

The plan was developed through a series of meetings across the state last fall asking Iowans what recreation activities they would like to participate in, what amenities or conveniences would help them participate more often and what should the state focus on when it comes to outdoor recreation.

The plan, which is a partnership with the County Conservation Boards and Cities, will serve as a guide for future projects developed by the Iowa DNR.

The DNR will review the public comments and submit a final plan to the National Park Service in 2013.

Paying a premium: A Senate GOP leader supports legislation to charge lawmakers for their health care insurance, but sidestepped a question about making a voluntary contribution toward covering those costs.

“It’s time that state employees share in their burden for providing their health insurance,” Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said at a weekly news conference. He was referring to an arbiter’s decision that state employees couldn’t be required to pay a portion of their health insurance costs.

Asked if he would, like some legislators, make a voluntary contribution toward his health insurance, Dix encouraged Senate Democrats to bring the issue up for a vote.

“We’re happy to have that debate,” he said. “We encourage it to come to a vote. Let’s get it done.”

Quote of the day: “Time is of the essence now. Want to advance this so we can actually, perhaps, adjourn sometime this summer,” Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, talking about prospects for a Medicaid expansion compromise. Adjournment is scheduled May 3.

-- Compiled by the Des Moines Bureau

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