Editor's note: Every other Sunday through the conclusion of this year's session of the Iowa Legislature, our local lawmakers will share their Statehouse views.
Rep. Jacob Bossman, R-Sioux City
As I have said in this space before, eliminating barriers to workforce must be a primary focus this legislative session. But we must not also forget the challenges facing border communities like ours due to the advantageous tax structures right across the river in South Dakota. And while we accomplished much with the unprecedented tax reform package passed last session - particularly in its ability to neutralize some of the competitive imbalance between Iowa and South Dakota - there are still many tax issues left to address.
The Targeted Jobs tax credit program was extended for only one year. I am pushing this session for a five-year extension that will give our border communities and economic development professionals much more stability and the needed ability to plan ahead when it comes to job recruitment and business expansion. Iowa’s corporate tax rate is still among the highest in the country. To be competitive with our neighbors (particularly the 800-pound gorilla across the river with no state income taxes), we must work to get our rate down closer to 7 or 8 percent. Only that will stop the bleeding - the constant flow of Iowa businesses moving across the river for greener pastures and a more favorable tax climate. I also support an extension of the SAVE penny for school infrastructure with an expansion to the portion going into the PTER fund that will put money toward “property poor” school districts like Sioux City and result in real property tax relief for our residents.
We must continue to analyze and address all areas of taxation that can make us more competitive with our neighboring states - and a more appealing place to live and work.
Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City
Last year, Iowa’s 20-week abortion ban was struck down by the Iowa Supreme Court. Although nowhere in the language of the state Constitution, the court held that women have a constitutional right to an abortion. In response, Senate Republicans have submitted an amendment to Iowa’s Constitution that is neutral on the subject of abortion, which will prevent judges from making policy decisions on abortion. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the states individually can restrict or ban abortion, the decision would be left in the hands of elected legislators.
The judicial nominating process for Iowa's Supreme Court justices is going to change. The statewide nominating commission, which picks nominees for the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, consists of 17 members. Currently, eight non-lawyer commissioners are appointed by the governor and eight lawyer commissioners are selected by the legal profession. The 17th spot is held by the most senior justice on the Supreme Court, who is not the chief. The governor then chooses a justice from two to three names submitted by the commission. The propriety of having a non-governmental entity pick half the nominating commission has been questioned.
Under the new proposal, the governor would select four lawyer and four non-lawyer commissioners. The speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, House minority leader, and Senate minority leader would each choose a lawyer and non-lawyer commissioner. It is believed this would result in the selecting of commissioners who reflect the views of the public at large rather than lawyers as a defining group. It would provide accountability to the electorate and give the minority a voice.
If you are a senior on a fixed income and have been affected by rising property taxes, please send me an email with a brief summary of your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Chris Hall, R-Sioux City
For decades, Iowa was a model for education in the country. Our reputation was upheld by leaders of both political parties, and helped attract many families and businesses to the state. However, over the last decade funding levels have slipped to historically low levels, lagging behind the cost of inflation during an otherwise strong period of economic growth. That lag has led to school closings, rising class sizes and fewer opportunities for students.
On Monday, the Iowa House will debate funding for K-12 public schools. I will support a plan that helps rural school districts with the high cost of transportation, providing an extra $157,939 to Lawton-Bronson and $79,882 to Woodbury Central schools, for example. I will also support a plan offered by House Democrats to begin restoring our state’s reputation as a national leader in education.
The Democratic plan was crafted to preserve a strong ending balance in our budget and also keep up with the cost of educating a child. It includes an additional $4.5 million in property tax relief payments, an additional $800,000 toward preschool access and $300,000 more toward reducing the size of classrooms. Instead of putting tax breaks for the top 1 percent at the front of the line, the Democratic plan prioritizes education and crafts the rest of our budget around that priority. It is fiscally responsible, aims to help working families, and historically it is how both parties in Iowa used to budget. Each important benchmark can be met.
Thanks to The Journal for again providing this space. I hope to be an effective advocate for our community and its taxpayers and as I’ve said each year, I’m honored to represent the people of Sioux City. Take care.
Rep. Tim Kacena, D-Sioux City
Good Sunday to you all.
I’m working to defeat a proposed amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would require the courts to use strict scrutiny to evaluate all gun safety laws. The amendment would go beyond the extent of Second Amendment rights outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court and enable frivolous lawsuits against common-sense gun safety laws. This proposal could lead to the elimination of background checks and laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers.
Louisiana, Missouri and Alabama are the only other states to adopt strict scrutiny amendments. Taxpayers in these states are forced to foot the bill for the public defenders, prosecutors and courts that defend and hear cases surrounding basic gun-safety measures that without strict scrutiny being applied would have little chance of being struck down by a court. For example, felon-in-possession-of-guns laws have been challenged in both Louisiana and Missouri. Because of the strict scrutiny amendment, a lower court in Louisiana found the state law prohibiting felons from having guns to be unconstitutional. Thankfully, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed this ruling, but the time, cost and uncertainty to public safety imposed by the litigation could have been avoided entirely without strict scrutiny on the books. Another example was in Missouri when a prosecutor in Charles County decided not to charge a convicted felon with possessing an illegal gun even after he shot and killed a neighbor’s dog because of the fear that strict scrutiny would undermine the case. The Missouri auditor estimated that the strict scrutiny amendment cost state agencies more than $219 million in fiscal year 2016.
I will be proposing an amendment to Article I of the Iowa Constitution that reads, “Right to keep and bear arms. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
I believe in the right to gun ownership. And also interest-balancing rulings on any gun laws brought before the courts.
Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City
On Monday, Iowa Republicans made yet another move to cheat our system of fairness and equity by filing a bill that would lead to the increased politicization of the Iowa judicial system. They have filed a bill (SSB 1101) that gives the governor and legislative leaders the power to stack Iowa’s judicial nominating commissions. These commissions nominate judges to serve on Iowa’s courts.
Under current law, for example, the State Judicial Nominating Commission is composed of a chair, eight commissioners elected by the Iowa Bar and eight commissioners appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate. The chair is the senior justice of the Iowa Supreme Court other than the chief justice. These commission members deliberate and select three nominees to fill vacancies on the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals, from which the governor appoints.
This is a fair, merit-based approach to selecting judges. The Iowa Bar is a nonpartisan organization of experienced Iowa lawyers. Their role in our system ensures a justice is picked who will bring wisdom and fairness to the bench.
Under the new Republican selection process, the independent Iowa Bar is completely cut out. Instead, the eight committee members are nominated by the speaker of the House, the House minority leader, the Senate majority leader and the Senate minority leader. Each of these legislators selects two commission members.
Advocates for this change argue that the current system is rigged in a way that favors left-leaning judges. Yet the governor currently selects half of the commission members, so he or she already has a significant influence on the nominating commission. The Iowa Bar has proven time and time again to appoint commission members who are above party lines.
I worry that proposed changes will divide Iowans, rather than unite us under our shared values of respect and fairness for the rule of law.