Editor's note: The 2018 session of the Iowa Legislature adjourned on May 5. In no specific order, The Journal editorial board today offers five Cheers and five Jeers for the work of state lawmakers this year.
1) Republicans delivered
No Iowan can argue with this: Republicans took full advantage in the two years of the just-completed General Assembly of the fact they controlled the governor's office and both chambers of the Statehouse for the first time in 20 years.
From guns and collective bargaining last year to abortion and tax cuts this year, they produced a significant, if not historic package of reforms.
For putting in the work necessary to deliver what they said they would, majority Republicans deserve a thumbs up.
No one should be surprised by what emerged. Republicans campaigned on conservative positions and were elected in numbers sufficient to pass their agenda.
In November, voters will pass ultimate judgment on their body of accomplishments.
2) Targeted Jobs Program extended
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.
Scheduled to expire this year, the program was extended for one year.
3) Water quality gets more money
Lawmakers allocated $282 million to water quality over the next 12 years. Money will be produced from an existing tax on metered drinking water and from gambling revenue.
In part, the legislation - the first bill signed into law by Kim Reynolds as governor - establishes a water quality infrastructure fund within the state Department of Agriculture. The fund will be used to support conservation infrastructure on agriculture land, including wetlands, bioreactors, buffers and terraces.
"With the science-backed Nutrient Reduction Strategy as our road map ... we’re going to continue to charge forward with our water quality efforts," Reynolds said when she signed the bill. "Together we have the opportunity to modernize Iowa’s agricultural infrastructure, create jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities (and) promote collaboration between urban and rural communities."
4) "Backfill" didn't end
Lawmakers discussed a phaseout of "backfill" payments to local governments as replacement for revenue lost through commercial and industrial property tax reform approved by the Legislature in 2013, but in the end no action was taken.
First, we are pleased the Legislature didn't approve an immediate end to "backfill" because such a a step would have created enormous headaches for local governments whose budgets for the next fiscal year are finished.
Second, if the Legislature believes tight budget times demand the phaseout of this commitment over time, local governments should be involved in the discussion.
If, as we believe it will, the Legislature revisits this issue next year, state and local leaders should work together on a plan acceptable to both sides.
5) Opioid abuse addressed
In unanimous fashion, both the House and Senate embraced legislation aimed at the problem of opioid abuse in the state.
A class of drugs, opioids include legal pain relievers available by prescription and the illegal drug heroin. According to a University of Iowa report, which was compiled through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to UI's Injury Prevention Research Center, prescription opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled in Iowa since 1999 and heroin deaths have increased more than ninefold in the past 15 years, three times higher than the national average.
Key provisions of the bill include:
- All prescribers will be required to register for and use a prescription monitoring program.
- "Good samaritan" protection will be created to ensure a person seeking treatment for a drug-related overdose or a person seeking medical treatment for a person experiencing a drug-related overdose cannot be arrested or prosecuted for certain controlled substance-related violations.
"We do have to take positive, affirmative steps toward curbing the opioid epidemic that is sweeping across our state and our nation,” said Sen. Tom Greene, R-Burlington, a licensed pharmacist.
1) No action on bullying
After three sessions of discussion and near-passage in 2015 of a bill to strengthen state anti-bullying law, the Legislature in 2016, in 2017 and, disappointingly, again this year virtually ignored the issue.
2) No ban on hand-held devices while driving
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.
Iowa lawmakers should go one step further and ban use of a hand-held cellphone while driving.
3) More wasted time
Another year of discussion, another year of no action by the Legislature on traffic cameras.
In other words, more wasted time.
In our view, lack of consensus on legislation to either ban or regulate these cameras is a sign it's time for lawmakers to move on from the issue.
4) No extension of school tax
We support an extension of the one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure, but only for school infrastructure as was the original intent. For purposes of planning and bonding for future infrastructure projects, school districts need an end to uncertainty about the tax's future.
The House overwhelmingly approved a 20-year extension of the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education tax beyond its scheduled 2029 sunset this year, but the issue didn't even get a vote on the floor of the Senate.
5) No gun law fix
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.