A roundup of legislative and Capitol news items of interest for Monday, March 25, 2013:
Soldier’s funeral: Funeral services have been scheduled for Estherville native Staff Sgt. Steven P. Blass, 27, who died while serving on active duty in the U.S. Army March 11 near Kandahar, Afghanistan, when his UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a routine training mission.
His funeral service will be at 2 p.m. March 26 at the Estherville Lincoln Central High School. A graveside service will follow at the North Lawn Cemetery at Spencer.
The family requests in lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Steve Blass Memorial Fund, Employees Credit Union, 2714 Central Ave., Estherville, Iowa 51334.
Iowa cities vs. EPA: The United States Appeals for the Eight Circuit sided with the League of Cities over the Environmental Protection Agency in a decision released Monday. At issue were a series of EPA letters and memoranda that the League claimed constituted new regulatory requirements for water treatment processes. The EPA, in turn, claimed the documents only explained existing laws and asked the courts to dismiss the challenge. In a 41-page opinion released Monday, the court sided with the League and struck the requirements that were outlined in the documents. The full decision can be found online here: http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/13/03/113412P.pdf.
Nuclear opposition: S.A.F.E. — Saving America’s Farmground and Environment — will have an information meeting on prospects for a nuclear or natural gas power plant southeast of Wilton March 26.
MidAmerican Energy, which has sought lawmakers’ support for a small-scale nuclear plant in recent legislative sessions, discussed its plans in a private meeting with landowners in November. A company representative will make a brief presentation. There will be time for questions and comments, including comments by elected officials.
The meeting will be at a 6:30 p.m. in the new Wilton Community Center (across from the junior-senior high school), 1215 Cypress St., Wilton. Seating is limited. Doors will open at 6 p.m.
The meeting will be rebroadcast on Muscatine Power and Water Digital TV Channel 9. Check its schedule for date and time. For more information, contact Dianne Glenney, (563) 260-8094.
Slippery slope of DNA: A measure to spend about $27 per person convicted of an aggravated misdemeanor was approved 79-17 by the House Monday despite an argument that it was the “beginning of a slippery slope.”
Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton argued against HF 527, which would require people convicted of aggravated misdemeanors to submit DNA that would become part of a government database. Eventually, she suggested, people fined for traffic violations might have to submit DNA.
However, floor manger Rep. Jarad Klein, R-Keota, said it was similar to collecting fingerprints and would help law enforcement solve crimes.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, does not plan to take up the HF 527.
Lake Delhi: A House-passed bill dealing with reconstruction of the dam at Lake Delhi passed a Senate subcommittee Monday amid grumbling from senators and critics perturbed that no supporters showed up to answer questions.
Sens. Mary Jo Wilhelm, D-Cresco, and Chris Brase, D-Muscatine, agreed to move the bill to the Senate Local Government Committee with next week’s second “funnel” deadline looming, but they hoped to address concerns about adequate public access and other questions before bringing HF 541 before the full committee.
The bill, which passed the House 71-27 earlier this month, would allow reconstruction of the dam, which was breached by a 2010 flood on the Maquoketa River in Delaware County, at the height of the spillway, which is about 6 feet lower than the top of the dam. It’s the spillway, not the dam that determines the height of the pool on the Maquoketa River. However, Iowa Department of Natural Resources administrative rules require the dam to be rebuilt to the level of the top of the dam. HF 541 would carve out an exception so the dam’s owners would not have to get easements on upriver land that would be inundated by high water.
Skilled workers: The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 13-8 Monday to provide $25 million to Iowa’s community colleges to help bolster the state’s skilled worker training investments. SF 291 would provide $9.5 million more for workforce training and economic development funding, $7.5 million for adult education, $5 million for career pathway and tuition assistance, and $3 million to identify and fill skills gaps.
Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, said Iowa is one of three states that do not specifically invest in adult basic education and funding in that area could benefit the nearly 10 percent of Iowa’s working age adults who do not have a high school diploma or GED.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, said S.F. 291 contained good policy pieces, but GOP committee members wanted to see the price tag of an education reform measure to be debated by the Senate on Tuesday before committing to spend another $23 million from the state general fund and $2 million from other sources as the bill proposes.
Regent nominees: Gov. Terry Branstad gave a strong vote of confidence Monday for his three nominees to the state Board of Regents to be confirmed by the Iowa Senate for six-year terms. Branstad told Statehouse reporters that current board president Craig Lang, a Brooklyn dairy farmer, and new appointees Robert Cramer, a Grimes construction executive, and Subhash Sahai, a Webster City physician, “bring diversity, experience, knowledge and expertise that we need on the Board of Regents.”
Branstad noted the regents have selected Steven Leath as president of the Iowa State University and William Ruud as president of the University of Northern Iowa, pushed for increased UNI funding, started to address the tuition set-aside issue and froze tuition for in-state students under Lang’s watch. He says Sahai brings medical knowledge and Cramer’s contracting experience will be valuable as the University of Iowa undertakes $1 billion in flood rebuilding projects. Lang and Cramer face challenges getting the 34 affirmative votes needed for confirmation. Lang, a former Iowa Farm Bureau president, has been criticized for academic freedom issues related to ISU’s ill-fated Harkin Institute, while Senate Democrats raised concerns about Cramer’s activism on socially conservative issues. The Senate must act on gubernatorial appointments by April 15.
Better bottle bill: A new effort is being launched to upgrade Iowa’s current bottle bill law. A broad coalition of recycling advocates, business owners, elected officials, redemption center operators, environmental organizations and sportsmen groups are joining with state legislators to launch a push to modernize Iowa’s five-cent beverage container redemption law. Coalition members have planned a news conference at 8:45 a.m. in the Iowa Capitol building Tuesday to launch their proposed legislation. For more information, including the latest updates on the Iowa Better Bottle Bill, visit www.IowaBottleBill.com, organizers said.
Marketing halted: A California company must stop marketing real estate documents to Iowa residents under an agreement with Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller that was announced Monday.
Juan Roberto Romero Ascencio of Bellflower Calif., and his company, LA Investor Inc., which does business as “Local Records Office,” has agreed to stop marketing property deeds and real estate titles in Iowa and to stop collecting money.
The AG’s Consumer Protection Division investigated the company’s solicitations and charges to Iowans for property documents that are often readily available for free or a very small charge. During its probe, the division issued a consumer fraud subpoena and intercepted more than 50 forms — including checks — from Iowans responding to the mailings. The division expects to return the checks, along with letters of explanation, to the senders. Local Records Office is a business with no government affiliation or authority, and divisions officials note that homeowners can generally obtain certified copies of their deeds from their county recorder’s office for around $5, or in many counties obtain them online for free.
Miller noted that most homeowners do not need to have a deed on-hand anyway. As part of the agreement, the company and its owner deny wrongdoing but agree to the terms. Miller said that if any Iowan requests a refund and is refused, they should file a complaint by contacting the division at (888) 777-4590 or visit www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov.
Still a dime a sheep: The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has certified the results from the recent Iowa sheep assessment referendum in which producers rejected increasing the 10 cent per head assessment to 25 cents.
Sheep producers also rejected allowing the Iowa Sheep and Wool Promotion Board to change the assessment rate by five cents every three years.
Quote of the day: “I believe that the Legislature should look at the qualifications and the knowledge that they bring to the Board of Regents and not make decisions based on political litmus tests.” – Gov. Terry Branstad talking about his appointees to the Board of Regents, which oversees state universities.
–Compiled by the Des Moines Bureau