Iowa Politics Roundup: Deadline Looms for Action on Budget, Traffic Fines, and Weapons Permit Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 23 April 2010 13:30

Budget bills, an increase in traffic fines, and a bill that would take away the discretion of county sheriffs in issuing weapons permits are among key bills approved by the 2010 legislature that Governor Chet Culver must take action on before next Thursday's deadline.

By the end of this week, Culver will have already signed into law roughly 79 percent of the 196 bills approved this year, according to an IowaPolitics.com review of enrolled bills. Approximately 41 remain, including most of the budget bills, which Culver has the authority to line-item-veto.

Key bills yet to see action include:

∙ House File 2531, the $2.7-billion clean-up standings bill approved on the last day of session, which contains the all-important $2.5 billion in state aid for K-12 schools and also includes provisions for bicycle safety and Jermiah's Law, increasing penalties for motorists who run red lights;

∙ Senate File 2389, the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund bill, which also includes $150 million in bonds for the I-JOBS II infrastructure program;

∙ Senate File 2381, the transportation budget bill, which also includes the mandate that all children under 18 use a seat belt, even when in the back seat;

∙ Senate File 2379, a bill making Iowa a "shall issue" state and taking away sheriffs' discretion in issuing weapons permits;

∙ Senate File 2378, the justice-system-budget bill that also includes an increase in numerous traffic fines; and

∙ House File 2526, the state's largest budget bill -- a health and human-services budget that spends $954.34 million from the general fund in Fiscal Year 2011 and uses $187.8 million from the state's cash reserves.

"I've been given no indication that he's going to veto any piece of legislation," said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines).

Culver has declined to say whether he'll sign into law a bill making Iowa a "shall issue" state and a bill that would increase hundreds of traffic fines to raise an additional $9 million for he state.

Approximately 50 gun-rights advocates gathered on the west steps of the Capitol earlier this week, calling for fewer weapons restrictions and for Culver to sign the weapons-permit bill, which is backed by the National Rifle Association.

"It's the right thing to do," said Sean McClanahan -- president of Iowa Carry -- who said his group has members in Jasper, Emmett, and Dubuque counties who have had difficulty getting a permit. "This is not a Democratic-versus-Republican thing. This is a rights thing; this is a public safety thing."

House Minority Whip Linda Upmeyer (R-Garner) also said she hopes Culver signs the weapons-permit bill along with House File 2399, which could increase power rates by $15 million and allows MidAmerican Energy to undertake site-suitability studies for construction of a nuclear-power plant in Iowa.

Upmeyer also said some line-item vetoes by Culver in appropriations bill could curtail spending that Republicans say was excessive this year.

Meanwhile, traffic fines would increase in at least 180 areas if a portion of Senate File 2378, the justice-system appropriations bill, is signed into law. Increases would come in the areas of speeding, traffic violations, operating while intoxicated, open container, failure to obey a traffic-control device, failure to maintain control, and driving on the wrong side of a two-lane highway. The judicial branch would receive about $5.3 million -- the bulk of the proceeds.

Culver has hinted that he supports the fee increases, although he has the line-item-veto authority to strike it from the bill. "I think most Iowans would agree that criminals should pay if they break the law," he said. "And if you don't want to pay, you try not to break the law."

Other bills yet to see action include ones that would: require public schools and state agencies to use environmentally friendly cleaning products; deem it child abuse to expose a child to obscene materials; and require informed written consent for genetic tests and limit insurance companies from using that information to deny coverage. The stack of unsigned bills also contains several veterans bills, including one that would provide veterans a holiday for Veterans Day.

The 2010 Iowa legislature adjourned March 30 on the 79th day of session, making it the shortest session in nearly four decades. Sessions normally run 100 or 110 days; last year the legislature didn't adjourn until April 26. However, lawmakers managed to pass more bills this year: 185 bills were approved in the 2009 session, compared with 196 this year.

Branstad Tops Gubernatorial Candidates in Both Income and Donations

Republican gubernatorial candidate (and former Governor) Terry Branstad and his wife Christine had a 2009 adjusted gross income three times as much as Governor Chet Culver and his wife Mari, three times as much as state Representative Rod Roberts and his wife Trish, and nearly four times as much as Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats and his wife Darla, according to summaries of 2009 income-tax returns released this week. Roberts and Vander Plaats are also seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Data released this week show Branstad and his wife had an adjusted gross income of $396,986 in 2009, which included a 10-month salary of $276,026 as president of the Des Moines University. Annualized, that would amount to about $331,231, compared to $130,000 he would earn if re-elected governor.

The Culvers' adjusted gross income was $126,745; the Robertses had an adjusted gross income of $136,488; and the Vander Plaatses reported an adjusted gross income of $103,562.

Branstad's gifts to charity totaled $41,178, or 10.4 percent of his adjusted gross income. The Vander Plaatses donated 5.5 percent of their adjusted gross income, the Robertses 4.2 percent, and the Culvers 2.2 percent.


Casino Decisions Still on for May 13, Despite Investigation

The Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission still plans to meet May 13 to decide whether to award a new casino license for the first time since 2005, despite calls by gambling opponents to delay the decision.

Calls for the delay came because of a state investigation into a $25,000 contribution to Culver's re-election campaign by three supporters of a proposed Fort Dodge casino who had been paid $25,000 by Dubuque-based Peninsula Gaming. But in a statement Wednesday, the five-member commission said it plans to stay with its original schedule.

"The Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission will not change the May 4 date for the public hearing or the May 13 date for deciding whether to grant or deny licenses to four applicants for new casinos," the news release stated. "On May 13, the commission will determine whether it is appropriate to defer a decision on any applicants to a later date."

Fort Dodge, Ottumwa, Lyon County, and Tama County are seeking casino licenses. The May 4 public hearing will be held at Stoney Creek Inn Johnston.

Culver declined to comment Thursday on the investigation; he was participating in a state-prison groundbreaking in Fort Madison.

A day earlier in Davenport, Culver said that neither his campaign nor his official office did anything wrong. "You can be assured that no one on the campaign or in the office is the center of that investigation," Culver said in a brief interview with the Quad-City Times after a bill-signing at a blood center.

Republican candidate for attorney general Brenna Findley on Friday called for Attorney General Tom Miller to address the situation, calling it inappropriate for Donn Stanley from the attorney general's office to take over Culver's campaign when an investigation is underway. "It raises a conflict of interest when one of the attorney general's top lieutenants takes a job with the very campaign that is under investigation for pay to play," she said.

Two Potential 2012 Presidential Candidates Visit Iowa

Former New York Governor George Pataki this week pushed for the repeal of federal health-care reform to a crowd of about 100 Republican activists and officials at the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines, while keeping the door open to a run for president in 2012.

"I was governor for 12 years, and I learned early on that you never say never," Pataki said in an interview with IowaPolitics.com. "I do feel that Washington is headed dramatically in the wrong direction. We're all obligated to stand up and get involved to try to change that."

Pataki was last in Iowa in November, when he was the keynote speaker at the Scott County Republican Party's Ronald Reagan Dinner in Bettendorf. He returned Tuesday in his new role as chair of Revere America and its $15-million national campaign to repeal federal health-care reform. The group aims to gather 1 million signatures to repeal, reform, and replace the new law. Pataki said his work for the group is as a citizen, and he isn't getting paid anything for it.

"I love being a private citizen, and I'm sure come 2012, there's going to be a lot of good people out there, but I don't think we can wait two and a half years to take back our government," Pataki said. "That's why we're going to be out there fighting every day from now until November to do that. This is all about literally repealing ObamaCare and replacing it with true health-care reform, or having people in Congress who will support our effort to do that."

Meanwhile, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was in Des Moines last weekend for an Iowa Taxpayers Day event. He declined to say during his visit whether he will announce a run for president in the coming months, but he did say that his political action committee Freedom First will be making endorsements in Iowa races this election cycle.

"Once we hopefully make a positive impact in 2010, we'll decide what's next after that," Pawlenty, who's vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, told reporters after his speech at Iowa Taxpayers' Day in Des Moines, hosted by Iowans for Tax Relief.

More than 500 people packed a conference room at the Holiday Inn to hear Pawlenty, who asserted that the federal government is too big and that Democrats drove up the federal deficit last year by more than $1.5 trillion. He also said President Barack Obama "missed an opportunity" to reform health care in a bipartisan manner.

Obama Plans Trip to Iowa Next Week

Obama will travel to Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois next Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the White House to Main Street Tour launched in December, the White House announced this week.

Obama will meet with workers, farmers, small-business owners, and local leaders to hear ideas for improving the economy and putting Americans back to work.

The president's trip will include stops in four Iowa towns -- Fort Madison, Mount Pleasant, Ottumwa, and Des Moines, according to several media reports.

Obama will fly into Quincy, Illinois, around 11:30 a.m. next Tuesday and then head to Fort Madison for a 1 p.m. energy event. He will then visit Mount Pleasant, the home of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as well as Ottumwa, where he is expected to arrive at about 4:45 p.m. and hold a town-hall event or rally.

The president is expected to spend Tuesday night in Des Moines, leave at 10 a.m. Wednesday for Quincy, and then proceed to Macon, Missouri, for a tour of an ethanol plant. The final event will be an hour-long town-hall meetin and rally in Quincy at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday.

A formal schedule has not been released by the White House, which would only confirm that Obama plans to visit the three states to talk about the economy. Details have largely come from police in affected areas who received more details about the visit. Obama's visit comes one month after he came to Iowa City to talk about the passage of health-care reform.

This weekly summary comes from IowaPolitics.com, an online government and politics news service. Reporter Andrew Duffelmeyer and other correspondents contributed to this report.