Students, veterans and job creation efforts were the big winners in 2012 session of the Iowa Legislature.
Republican and Democratic legislators did their best work when we refused to be distracted by divisive issues and instead worked together on the top priorities of Iowans. We approved measures that will move this state forward, create jobs, grow our economy, increase student achievement and expand educational opportunity.
Community colleges were clearly winners during the 2012 legislation session. Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich cited that, saying, "Consider the $23.5 million increase a retirement present from Senate President Jack Kibbie, one of the founders of the community college system (in 1965) and a loyal advocate." We also invested $11 million in community colleges from the infrastructure budget - $6 million for the ACE (Accelerated Career Education) and $5 million for community college maintenance.
Other parts of education made some gains and took some losses. SF2114 provided 4 percent allowable for K-12 schools and passed the Senate, but died in the House. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education received $4.7 million in funding. Smaller classroom sizes in the early grades will promote learning. Policy was passed to support early literacy programs, but it was not accompanied by adequate funding.
One of the major differences between the House and the Senate education bills was retention of third-graders not up to reading standards. The House proposed retaining those students. The Senate rejected that idea, believing it should be a local decision, involving parents and teachers, not the Iowa Legislature. Both houses agreed that "social promotion" is not good policy. A compromise was reached in which parents of a student not proficient in reading at the end of his or her third grade would have the choice of enrolling the student in an intensive summer reading program. If parents did not make that choice, then the student is retained in third grade.
Veterans fared well again during the 2012 session. Statehouse observers say more comprehensive veterans legislation has passed during the past few years than any time since World War II. I am proud and honored to serve as the Veterans Affairs Committee chair. The first bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor appropriated $1.3 million for the National Guard tuition assistance program. We adequately supplied funding ($1.6 million) for another popular veterans project, the homebuyers $5,000 grant. SF2245 funds a dual diagnosis program at the Iowa Veterans Home, helping veterans found to have both a substance abuse problem and PTSD.
Because of low interest rates, the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund does not produce enough money to help veterans receive vision, dental and vision assistance not otherwise covered by VA benefits, and for emergency home and car repairs. We passed, and the governor signed, HF2466 that appropriates $100,000 for this fiscal year and $300,000 in subsequent years assuring deserving veterans receive the help to which they're entitled.
As vice chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Appropriations Subcommittee and member of the RIIF (Reinvest in Iowa Infrastructure Fund) and Infrastructure Conference Committee, I was pleased appropriate $100,000 to help the museum at Fort Des Moines. I'm embarrassed that I was previously unaware of the history of Fort Des Moines, which trained black officers during World War I and women officers during World War II. I encourage you to visit that museum and the Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge.
Projects of local interest
We funded other projects of local interest from the RIIF, including $1 million for the popular Great Places project, $5 million for the Community Attractions and Tourism projects, $5 million for state parks, $1 million for water trails and low head dams, $3 million for recreation trails and $500,000 regional sports authorities. The Natural Resources budget includes funding for at least four park rangers and DNR officers, with the understanding that one would be devoted to Webster County.
In addition, we encouraged economic growth and job creation through targeted business incentives, university-supported business development, and funding for local Workforce Development field offices that help out-of-work Iowans find jobs and local businesses find employees. Tax Incremental Financing was preserved by HF2460, but also opened it up to more accountability and transparency. TIF provides an effective economic development tool for communities, but was threatened because of abuse in a few situations.
The public's right to know is protected by the creation of the Public Information Board that will oversee open meetings and records laws and provide an advocate for people seeking what is their right in a democracy.
Health and well-being
Mental health in Iowa will see some redesign that will shift the way counties fund mental health services from 99 county systems to a regionalized statewide system.
One of my major goals is now law. After sponsoring and passing SF204 in 2011, a bill that established a task force for the prevention of child of child abuse, I sponsored and floor-managed SF2035 in 2012. It protects children at post-secondary institutions, prohibits retaliation for reporting abuse, requires training and policies for colleges, and creates a task force to report back to the legislature in 2013. It passed both houses by overwhelming bipartisan margins and was signed into law by the governor. I am grateful to Prevent Child Abuse Iowa for its assistance and stepping forward to provide staffing and direction for the task forces.
Another major goal did not become law. The Senate passed my autism bill (SF2128) with a bipartisan 43-7 margin. It would have required coverage of autism spectrum disorders on group and individual insurance plans. Unfortunately it died in the House.
Other good bills suffered similar fates.
Died in the House
Passage of SF 2161 would have expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit to cut taxes for 260,000 working families, helping families with 37 percent of Iowa's children, and boosting our economy. It passed the Senate by a vote of 48-0 but died in the House.
Alzheimer's disease has touched me directly. My dad died with Alzheimer's. SF2270 establishes a comprehensive strategy to help Iowans with Alzheimer's and their families and caregivers. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 44-6 but died in the House.
"Buy American" legislation (SF2287) would have given preference to public projects to use American-made products until those products cost 5 percent more than other products. The bill passed the Senate 37-13 but died in the House.
"Buy Iowan" legislation (SF2305) provided that Iowa bidders could have an opportunity to rebid if they lost to an out-of-state bidder by less than 5 percent. It passed the Senate 35-15 but died in the House.
SF2339 provided $10 million for tax credits to revitalize business districts and industrial parks. It passed the Senate 49-1 but died in the House.
Small wind producers would have been helped with the passage of SF2326, providing increased tax credits. It passed the Senate 41-9 but died in the House.
Died in the Senate
Of course the House was not the only body in which proposed legislation died.
A House-passed bill would have propelled MidAmerican Energy to move forward with a nuclear power plant. Frankly, I was relieved that legislation died because of the funding scheme that would have required ratepayers to pick up the high-cost tab, even if the plant was never built. There are also safety concerns.
Some good ideas didn't emerge from the Capitol, including an increase in the Road Use Tax (gas tax), which I view as a "user's fee" and necessary to fix our crumbling highways, bridges, farm-to-market roads and city streets. No doubt that will be back next year - with the safety of no campaign and no election for legislators to fear and face.
Out of more than 1,200 bills introduced in a typical year, only 10 percent become law. That's probably a good thing - especially if it is a bill I oppose. But it's a tragedy, of course, for a bill I support or have sponsored.
The 84th General Assembly is now history. But I am already working on legislation for the 85th General Assembly.
The good news is that we will start the 2013 session with $617 million in reserve, closing books for the 2012 fiscal year with a $258 million surplus and $60 million in a newly created Taxpayer Trust Fund. We balanced the budget without raising taxes.
In addition, I'll continue to fight for property tax reform (that was one that eluded us in 2012), renewable energy, mental health parity, autism coverage, and I pledge to give voice and advocacy to kids, veterans, seniors, business people, farmers and to people who often lack a voice in the halls of government.
I simply ask you to keep in touch with me and share your ideas and views. I like that. And representative democracy requires it.
Thank you for giving me the honor of serving you in the Iowa Capitol as your senator, voice and advocate.
Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, currently represents Senate District 25 (Calhoun, Greene and Webster counties). Beginning with the 85th General Assembly, which starts in January 2013, he will represent Senate District 5 (Calhoun, Humboldt, Pocahontas and Webster counties). Beal chairs the Veterans Affairs and International Relations committees. He is vice chair of the Local Government Committee as well as vice chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Appropriations Subcommittee. Additionally, Beall serves on the Commerce, Education and Transportation committees.