Kibbie, Frevert address legislative issues
From a gas tax to education to a smoking ban, Sen. Jack Kibbie, president of the Iowa Senate, and Rep. Marcie Frevert addressed a number of issues remaining to be resolved in this year’s Iowa Legislature at the legislative coffee Saturday at the Estherville Public Library Community Room.
Kibbie said the Transportation Bill would be coming without a gas tax increase, something that was hoped for by Iowa Highway 9 counties.
Kibbie favored a gas tax increase of 4-5 cents; however, he also acknowledged that would probably not happen. He said the last gas tax increase was in 1984.
“The governor has more or less drawn a line in the and on that issue,” Kibbie said of Gov. Chet Culver’s vow to not allow a gas tax increase.
Kibbie said the Senate passed a full ban on smoking on public places while the House approved a partial ban. He said chances are that the bill will go to conference committee before the Legislature determines the fate of the bill.
Kibbie hoped that the statewide penny tax for schools will be approved, noting a $700-$800 difference between Dickinson and Emmet counties in taxes collected per student. He said the statewide penny would level the playing field.
Frevert said she was getting a lot of correspondence on the SILO tax, which she agreed would level the playing field among school districts.
She did offer one bit of caution though.
“History proves we cannot protect the state school infrastructure funds,” Frevert said, pledging that she would support a state constitutional amendment to protect the tax.
“It’s probably the best property tax protection measure that we could pass this legislative session,” Frevert said.
Frevert noted how, ironically, retail-rich counties lobbied in favor of the statewide penny 10 years ago but now they’re against it.
Frevert also discussed the odor mitigation studies that Iowa State University has been doing for several years on livestock confinements around the state.
“They have been doing this air quality monitoring on a shoestring for many years,” Frevert said of the ISU researchers. One main result of that research is that not all distances are equal in regulating confinements.
With 244 permitted sites in the state this year, and at least that number predicted again this year, Frevert said it would make sense to embrace the model that ISU has developed.
“We have it now,” Frevert said. “It’s being used. We need to use it more.”
One bill Frevert said she would oppose would be a requirement that investor-owned utilities put energy-saving strategies to work. She said she opposed the bill since Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative, as an example, already does an exceptional job in that area.
ILEC General Manager Terry Bruns later noted that the cooperative was planning a wind farm in Dickinson and Kossuth counties and that last year ILEC spent $1 million to save customers $1.8 million.
Kibbie and Frevert then addressed a number of questions from the audience.
Kibbie addressed a question from Emmet County Supervisor Ron Smith on mental health funding.
Kibbie said the Mental Health Parity Bill had made it out of committee. “It’s all about money,” he said.
Emmet County Supervisor Roger Anderson said that the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) is seeking $10 million in additional mental health funding. If another $8 was funded, though, said Anderson, “That would be good.”
Kibbie acknowledged the relative size of the Human Resources budget, saying, “The Human Resources budget is the fastest-growing budget we have in state government” at $1.2 billion.
Donna Day-Templin thanked Kibbie and Frevert for their support of the smoking ban bill.
“I don’t know anybody in the health-care arena that’s not for a smoking ban,” Kibbie said.
Kibbie took issue with claims by casinos that banning smoking would hurt business. He said more than half the E-mails he received on the issue indicated that more people would go to casinos if they were smoke-free.
Dale Green commented on the cost of long-term care insurance. “We need a group that’s not tied to the insurance companies,” he said.
“There’s a reason that Des Moines is called the insurance capital of the world,’ Frevert said. “You’ll have to find somebody outside the golden circle. It is something that needs some close oversight,” she agreed.
The Bottle Bill continues to make news, and Frevert said the bill passed out of the Environmental Protection Committee. She noted that it was common knowledge the recyclers need to be paid better than they are.
Kibbie said eventually redemption centers need to be turned into recycling centers.
Connie Alvarez, Estherville gun dealer, asked for Kibbie and Frevert’s support of House File 2092 which would require county sheriff’s to issue a concealed weapon permit unless they had a good reason not to issue one. The bill’s language would change “may issue” to “shall issue“, Alvarez said. He said the right to carry a concealed weapon is an issue in the current Emmet County sheriff’s race.
Frevert said the bill had passed through committee 18-3.
Kathy Graves thanked Kibbie and Frevert for their support on the Healthy Families Initiative.
Scott Griffith asked about the possibility of planting switchgrass in road ditches for use in ethanol production. He noted that a small percentage of acres were currently planted with hay.
While acknowledging that “it takes a tremendous amount of tonnage,” Kibbie said “we need to move ahead on all of these renewables.“
Addressing another energy-related question, Kibbie said development of methane energy is “coming down the pike“.
Bruce Radtke asked about help for veterans.
Kibbie said 10 veterans-assistance bills were passed and that Emmet County is always at the top of the list in receiving veterans benefits.
Frevert said veterans need to check to determine which benefits they may qualify.
Kibbie said there may be an additional $10 million in funding for community colleges this year, less than last year’s increase. He said $1 million to $2 million will be earmarked for salaries. “The libraries and the community colleges are two areas that we are going to have to fix,” Kibbie said.