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Iowa Politics Roundup: Nearly 150 State Laws Take Effect PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 02 July 2010 12:09

All children under 18 riding in a car must be buckled up in a seat belt even when in the back seat; texting while driving will no longer be allowed; and more than 200 traffic fines will increase under three of the approximately 144 state laws that took effect Thursday, the first day of 2011 fiscal year.

Nearly three-fourths of the 196 bills approved by the 2010 legislature had a July 1 enactment date. Here's a closer look at some of the changes.

Seat-belt requirement: The law now requires all children under 18 to wear a seat belt or safety seat in a motor vehicle, even when in the back seat. The legislation didn't survive on its own but saw final passage as part of the transportation budget bill. Responsibility is placed on the violator rather than the driver if the person is 14 or older.

Ban on texting while driving: Iowa joins 28 other states with a ban on texting while driving. Adult drivers are restricted from reading, writing, and sending text messages. Teens with an instruction permit, restricted license, or intermediate license are banned from all use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. The bill includes exceptions for global positioning systems and for trucking and transit companies that use digital dispatch systems, as well as for public-safety and health-care professionals. The law took effect Thursday but allows a one-year education period during which violators will be given warnings. After that, violators will be guilty of a simple misdemeanor and could be fined $30. Penalties are harsher if an accident occurs and causes serious injury or death.

Traffic fines: More than 200 Iowa traffic fines increased Thursday, aimed at raising an additional $9.7 million for the state, of which the judicial branch is expected to receive about $5.3 million. The fine for all speeding tickets will increase, and some of them will double. Fines are also increased for operating while intoxicated, open container, failure to obey a traffic-control device, failure to maintain control, driving on the wrong side of a two-lane highway, defective windshield wipers, failure to wear a seat belt, window tinting, and other traffic violations. See a list of the increases at

Health care: Iowa's 2010 health-care-reform bill, which creates an online clearinghouse of information on public and private health-care options and allows IowaCare members to go to hospitals closer to home, took effect Thursday. Democrats touted that they "made it easier for rural residents to access health care and for rural hospitals to be paid for the care they provide." But this year's legislation was watered down from its original intent. Senate File 2356 initially would have created an IowaCare Plus program, which would have provided Iowans who have income between 200 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level with health-care-premium assistance. A separate law clarifies that Iowa-regulated insurance plans will provide coverage of services and drugs for Iowans participating in cancer clinical trials.

School nutrition standards: Nutritional standards for K-12 were approved during the 2008 legislative session but didn't take effect until Thursday. New rules restrict how much sugar, fat, and salt can be in school vending machines and school cafeteria items. The cardiovascular-exercise part of the law took effect a year ago, requiring 30 minutes of physical activity each day for kids through fifth grade and 120 minutes of physical activity each week for kids in grades six through 12.

No guns for domestic abusers: State law now prohibits a person who has been convicted of domestic abuse or who is subject to a permanent civil protective order from possessing firearms, other offensive weapons, or ammunition. Attorney General Tom Miller was a key backer of the legislation. Since 1995, guns have been involved in 114 of the 205 domestic-abuse murders in the state. "This bill gives her a chance," said Laurie Schipper, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "A chance to flee, a chance to survive her attack, a chance to fight back. A chance to live." It's been federal law to forbid domestic abusers from having firearms since 1995, but there are not enough federal agents for enforcement.

Ed Thomas bill: This law allows law enforcement to be notified when a suspect with a serious mental impairment is released from the hospital. It was named after Ed Thomas, the nationally known football coach who was killed by Mark Becker a day after Becker was released from a Waterloo hospital's psychiatric ward. Police who had taken Becker there weren't notified of his release. Becker was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of the Aplington-Parkersburg coach in the school's weight room. Members of the Thomas family, who went to the Capitol earlier this year to testify in favor of the legislation, were at the Iowa Hall of Pride when the bill was signed into law. Aaron Thomas said his late father, a high-school government teacher, would be proud.

Veterans and Military Families: A package of laws was approved this year for veterans, including one that requires employers in the state to provide veterans a holiday for Veterans Day. Another requires state-regulated insurance companies to cover mental-health and substance-abuse treatment for veterans who are employed. The provision only applies to businesses with more than 50 employees. Yet another law allows unemployment benefits for an individual who left employment because of the relocation of a spouse due to a military assignment in another area. Benefits would be paid out of the Unemployment Trust Fund.

Tax credits: For many tax credits that were capped or repealed by the legislature this year, the effective date was Thursday. Senate File 2380 repeals the Venture Capital Fund, the Value Added Ag Products investment tax credit, and the Economic Development Revolving Loan Program. It suspends the Film Tax Credit Program until July 1, 2013. It reduces the supplemental Research Activities Credit for companies that make more than $20 million per year, and increases the credit for companies making less than $20 million per year. It also reduces the cap on five tax-credit programs, and cuts several tax-credit programs by 10 percent.

School Cuts Spur Property-Tax Increases

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) confirmed this week that Iowans on average will see a property-tax increase because of cuts in state aid to schools.

According to LSA, school-district general-fund levies for Fiscal Year 2011 increased $133.3 million (8.8 percent) from Fiscal Year 2010. School-district cash-reserve levies increased $104.2 million (54 percent), likely due to state aid reductions in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 and anticipation of a state-aid shortfall for Fiscal Year 2011.

State Government Ends Fiscal Year with Surplus

The Iowa Department of Management estimated Thursday that the state general fund will have an ending balance of approximately $275 million for FY 2010, which is $175 million more than originally projected.

Department of Management figures are more conservative than a revenue estimate of $365 million released Thursday by the Legislative Services Agency. The books for Fiscal Year 2010, which ended Wednesday, won't officially close until the end of September.

A monthly revenue memo released Thursday by the Legislative Services Agency showed that the $5.5 billion in total net receipts the state collected in Fiscal Year 2010 is a decrease of $234.7 million (4.1 percent) from Fiscal Year 2009.

Personal-income tax was down $94.8 million (2.8 percent), the sales and use tax was down $34.4 million (1.5 percent), the corporate tax was down $27.2 million (6.5 percent), tax refunds had a negative $6.9-million impact on revenues, and school-infrastructure sales/use tax refunds had a negative $17.8-million impact.